Film review : Freedom folklore re-explored
If you’ve seen the brilliant cricketer in ‘Lagaan’ performing on the field to exempt a part of rural India of exorbitant taxes, get prepared to catch him do the daredevil driving the Brits out of his land this time round. With his formidable handlebar mooch ‘The Rising’ casts Amir Khan as the samaritan patriot Mangal Pandey, who blows the bugle to awaken and rescue India against the excesses of British imperialism. Set against the backdrop of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, often dubbed by historians as the First War of Indian Independence, this bio-pic relates very much to people living anywhere in the world under similar circumstances.
The film opens with spectacular cinematographical camerawork that presents India in all its unadulterated and pristine beauty. Mangal Pandey is a valiant warrior who’s loyal to the commandments of the British crown. During a fierce battle in the Afghan wars of the middle 1800s, he rescues his British commanding officer William Gordon (played by Tony Stephens), a happening that creates a strong friendship between them that transcends consideration of race and rank.
The friendship is soon challenged, first by arrival of a charming and beautiful young aristocrat (Emily Kent), and then by the introduction of controversial new gun cartridges among the soldiers. The relationship is complicated further when Gordon saves a beautiful young Indian girl, Jwala (played by Amisha Patel), from the funeral pyre of her late husband, and promptly falls in love with her. The cartridge incident becomes the catalyst of the rebellion soon to sweep the entire subcontinent and the making of a hero who, by the end of the film, is a new man.
Although there’s much to look for in the film, it also, to its credit, exquisitely etches some of the most memorable characters of modern Indian mytho-folklore despite its overly patriotic resonance. Stephens, who plays Captain William Gordon, is one such personality whose performance leaves an impression on the audience alongside Amir Khan’s. The bond the two share expresses itself in gestures and unspoken words. The sequences are handled with finesse and the background score adds to the rebellious tenor of the story. Rani Mukherjee, who has but a few occasional appearances to make in this film, can be seen maturing still with every performance. She is capable of handling a jaunty score as deftly as an emotional one. The film is, though, quite linear in structure as well as conception and is not without its predictable set of baddies who can go to extremes to inflict brutality upon their fellow do-gooders. Flamboyantly melodramatic as it is, mainstream filmgoers would still have a good reason to witness Amir Khan and a few others at their best in ‘The Rising.’ This is one Indian venture likely to have the next run at the Oscars.
(‘The Rising,’ Genre: Historical Drama, Cast: Amir Khan, Tony Stephens, Rani Mukherjee and Amisha Patel, Director: Ketan Mehta, Showing at: Jai Nepal, Kumari)