This is a film about the leader of the 1857 mutiny and his fight against the British rule.This is a film about the leader of the 1857 mutiny and his fight against the British rule.This is a film about the leader of the 1857 mutiny and his fight against the British rule.
It's also a rare treat to have an epic of this scale, told from an Indian point of view, in English (or mostly in English). It successfully merges factual history with cultural norms, mythology, song and dance, grand battle scenes, touching romance and heroism.
The British East India Company was subject to the uprising or 'mutiny' largely because of a failure to understand and respect local customs (from a purely military point of view, George Bush should consider bringing more or better historians to the White House). Having been subjected to abominations and still helping the Company fight wars, Indians rallied over a deeply held religious insult and attacked the British rulers.
It is a great credit to the filmmakers that the British have not been demonised. There is no dwelling on the greatest excesses and neither are the Indians portrayed as flawless. For instance, we see a British soldier preventing a local (forced) sacrifice of a young wife at the burning of the corpse of her 60yr old husband, and the excesses of the British depicted are those common in most armies where power has led to degeneracy. We see not only the forced cultivation of poppies, but shady dealings with the resultant drugs and the Indians always coming out the losers. We see houses of prostitution set up to 'keep the troops healthy'; Indian soldiers treated as second class citizens with brutal punishments for minor slips handed out by self-important British officers.
But whenever it gets too grim to watch, it springs the Bollywood trick of bursting into song and dance. The only other genre that routinely manages such a happy switch is grand opera. The slave courtesans sing joyously with double edged lyrics about being a slave to love. The spectacle of glorious colour and wonderful dancing spectacle entrances us.
Many great conquerors have been also ruthless and uncaring to those they abused. The British East India Company was perhaps no different, and at worst should perhaps be judged more by the morality of the time than present day international law. But that way of thinking is a get-out. Invading another country is almost always for selfish reasons, glossed over in one way or another according to the double-talk of the day. History usually sides with the victors.
The Rising will not get the marketing it deserves in the UK: many will avoid it because of the Indian songs. But it is a film well worth catching.
My main quibble is that India is constantly portrayed in movies (including this one) as incredibly clean. I have never found this so, except in 5 star hotels enclaves. There is a great water shortage and most streets are pretty unhygeinic by Western standards. If Calcutta was the paradise of colour and good health depicted in The Rising, then it's gone backwards, whatever the improvements in basic freedoms and human rights. But realism it not Indian cinema's forte.
- Aug 13, 2005