Monday, August 22, 2005

Shame-- The Sequel

Sharmistha Gooptu, who is pursuing a PhD in Indian cinema at the University of Chicago, views the historiographical debate on Mangal Pandey somewhat askance:

In fact, this whole debate over the historicity of the film seems to be a non-issue. For the historian, the more acceptable version may well be that of Mangal Pandey as the foolhardy Sepoy, who was too intoxicated to know where he was going. Indeed, I would agree that Pandey had no larger nationalist vision of contesting the company rule. However, it would be ridiculous for the economic logic of the Mumbai film industry to make such a film on Mangal Pandey and to show the climax as being nothing but Pandey high on bhang! Who would buy a film with such an anti-climax?
And, it does seem ironical that persons so dismissive of popular cinema have suddenly started engaging with it, and of all things, on the issue of historicity. Mughal-e-Azam, the mother of all period films is as loosely or closely based on history as Mangal Pandey, yet no one in all these years has thought of raising questions regarding its historicity; this trend of raining on Mumbai film parade seems to have become fashionable only in very recent years. What could be better than being able to capitalise on the market value of Mumbai films and yet retain the classic Indian intellectual’s distance from this bazaar culture?

The complete article appeared in Outlook.

As for that last question, methinks Ms. Gooptu makes a valid point: Consider the release of Rudrangshu Mukherjee's new book, Mangal Pandey: Brave Martyr or Accidental Hero?, I suspect timed to release two months prior to Ketan Mehta's film. I certainly am not suggesting that Mukherjee is not serious (he has written two previous books on the events of 1857-58), but this is his first offering dealing with that period in seventeen years...

Meanwhile, the newspapers seem to have fallen silent on the whole Mangal Pandey "controversy" (I write, as I try and infuse quotation marks with as much contempt as they will bear), and as of the time of writing there appears to be no ban in sight as far as the film is concerned. That being said, I doubt this film will get tax-free status in U.P. or Bihar anytime soon (as Veer Zaara, for instance, did). The film itself, marches on, with IBOS reporting a net all-India gross of over 18 crores (though bear in mind that one can't really compare this figure to that generated by films even ten years ago, a product of the larger number of prints in circulation, higher ticket prices, not just generally but because these days prices are often raised for "big" films, and because multiplexes charge several multiples of the "single screen" cinemas for a ticket; suffice it to say this is significantly larger than the first-week gross of 2004's Veer-Zaara).

...and no, there won't be a review of this film, not on this blog-- something about this film has made virtually every desi with a net connection write one, and there's a rather high proportion of useful ones to boot (browse through NG)...

4 comments:

tilotamma said...

SRK's asoka was spared... I wonder why

Qalandar said...

Actually, now that you mention it I do seem to recall protests in Orissa about the portrayal of Kaurvaki in the film. The film was not banned though, and nothing much came of it.

See: http://www.starswelove.com/scriptsphp/news.php?newsid=189

Satyam said...

Yes there were some protests on Asoka and I believe these involved more than the portrayal of Kaurvaki. I am a bit hazy on the matter at the moment but it had something to do with geography as well.

I agree though on MP. Suddenly a number of pieces have cropped up on MP all in the 'service' of historical truth! But I guess Ketan Mehta also opens himself to this sort of debate (I am not of course condoning the protests over the birthplace et al) by fashioning a film that attempts a marriage between a Hollywood kind of epic and masala fare. 99% of the film is probably fiction but the 'mode' of the film would not have you suspect this. On the other hand with more pedestrian fare like Kranti the characters are so obviously fictitious that no one could possibly consider it history. To be fair to Mehta this mode that he uses is persuasive. I commented on this elsewhere (at Naachgaana) but now I am prone to take the opposite view and suggest that perhaps this 'mix' stands in for 'history' far better than any more 'normal' account could today. Mehta clearly is not just in the game of providing masala fare with a refined veneer. He wants his mythology to have a truth value and to the extent that a large part of this audience believes this to be a history lesson (and responds accordingly though not necessarily favorably) the film can be called a success.

Qalandar said...

My favorite review so far is from the Deccan Herald: http://www.aamirkhan.org/hear_archives.php

It's nice to come across someone who gets it...