An Aamir Khan film is special. And if the actor happens to take a [almost] 4-year sabbatical from work and returns with a period epic, MANGAL PANDEY, you wait with bated breath for the overtly choosy actor to mesmerize his fans and cinelovers yet again.
Aamir's teaming with director Ketan Mehta as also producer Bobby Bedi, names synonymous with quality cinema, conjures images of an ambitious epic that could well be India's answer to the Mel Gibson classic BRAVEHEART.
Talking from the economics point of view as well, there's a lot riding on MANGAL PANDEY. The stakes are high, the industry can't afford biggies to bite the dust.
A slice of history that explores the mutiny of 1857, MANGAL PANDEY balances form and content beautifully. Lavishly mounted and recreating the era with precision, MANGAL PANDEY suits the term 'landmark cinema' and has all it takes to help Bollywood take a giant step into world cinema with pride.
Ketan Mehta's execution of the subject leaves you tongue-tied, the visuals appear true to life, the performances [so essential in a film of this genre] are absolutely spellbinding, the sequence of events that led to the mutiny are carefully explained. Result: The viewer cannot help but get transported to an era when British ruled India.
Recreating history is difficult and making you glued to your seats for the next 3 hours could be taxing if the content doesn't live up to your expectations. But MANGAL PANDEY talks about the martyr, his heroism, his contribution to India's freedom movement so effectively and immaculately that you can't help but salute the great freedom fighter.
To sum up, MANGAL PANDEY is a brave attempt on the part of its makers to bring to life an important chapter from history. And make you realize that the freedom we enjoy today is only because of our predecessors, who gave their blood for the nation. The film succeeds in arousing patriotic feelings without a shred of doubt!
Mangal Pandey [Aamir Khan] is an Indian sepoy serving Britain's East India Company. Mangal rescues his commanding officer William Gordon [Toby Stephens] on the battlefields of Afghanistan and the two men develop a friendship. The Hindi-speaking Gordon is sympathetic towards the locals, which is in stark contrast to most of his white colleagues.
The story takes a turn when the British introduce a new set of rifles. To use them, the sepoys are required to bite the bullet. The paper cartridges encasing the gunpowder contain beef and pig fat.
Neither Hindu nor Muslim soldiers are prepared to use the new cartridge on religious grounds. Trusting Gordon that the cartridges do not use beef and pig fat, Mangal bites the bullet, but when the sepoys learn the truth, Mangal revolts and leads a rebellion that sows the seeds for the end of the East India Company's reign.
Attempting a period film in an era when the focus is on candyfloss, escapist cinema is nothing short of a challenge. It's a risk, as the storyteller just cannot deviate from history, indulge in cinematic liberties, throw songs whether or not the situations warrant them or try to balance serious with light moments. If you talk of national heroes, you ought to remain faithful to the subject-material. And that's precisely what Ketan Mehta does while narrating the story of a great freedom fighter.
MANGAL PANDEY grips you from the very start. A number of sequences [screenplay: Farrukh Dhondy] leave you spellbound --
- The very start of the film, when Aamir is being taken to the gallows.
- The fight between an English officer and Aamir, when the former forcibly tries to molest Rani soon after the mujra.
- Toby rescuing Amisha from the funeral pyre.
- The turning point of the film, when Aamir uses the gun cartridge that has been greased with cow and pig fat.
- Aamir angrily confronting Toby Stephens at the intermission point.
- Aamir facing the British army alone and when he realizes that he would be overpowered, trying to commit suicide by shooting himself.
- The sequence in the hospital, when Toby tells Aamir to apologize, but Aamir sticks to his stand.
- The finale, when Aamir is publicly hanged and a brief B & W newsreel follows.
- Besides, the battle sequences [stunts: Abbas Ali Moghul] have been executed with flourish.
Any loopholes in an otherwise perfect film? The songs seem forced in the narrative. Ideally, the film could've done with two songs, 'Mangal Mangal' and 'Teri Adaon Pe Main Vaari Vaari'. The Holi track as also the romantic song [filmed on Aamir-Rani, Toby-Amisha] can easily be deleted since they only act as barricades in the otherwise smooth narrative.
Another drawback is that certain characters remain underdeveloped. The women don't have much to do in the film. Even the track of the maid [Mona Ambegaonkar], who feeds the British woman's infant, appears incomplete.
Since the film deals with history and British rulers specifically, the usage of English language is imperative, but Om Puri's voiceover in those scenes makes it easier for the average Indian moviegoer to decipher and fathom what's being spoken on screen.
While Rahman's music may not be ever-lasting, his background score has that international feel, befitting an epic. Cinematography [Himman Dhamija] is exceptional, again matching global standards. The locations and the colors only accentuate the visual impact. Special mention must also be made of the production design [Nitin Chandrakant Desai], costumes [Lovleen Bains] and makeup [Penelope Smith, Slash Apeni Sandhu]. Dialogues are natural to the core.
MANGAL PANDEY would look incomplete without Aamir's awe-inspiring portrayal of the great hero. Not once do you realize that the role is being 'enacted'. It's Aamir's splendid performance that makes the film a memorable affair, besides Mehta's storytelling of course. It goes without saying that his performance in MANGAL PANDEY should rank prominently in his enviable repertoire.
Toby Stephens is simply amazing. For an English actor to deliver lines in Hindi and match it with appropriate expressions is no ordinary task. The actor compliments Aamir at every step and delivers a knockout performance that would only draw applause from Indian moviegoers.
Both Rani and Amisha don't get ample footage. Rani is wonderful in a small role, but Amisha is relegated to the backseat completely. Kiron Kher is effective in a neat cameo. The film has a number of actors, but those who make their presence felt are Mukesh Tiwari, Sohrab Ardeshir and Amin Hajee.
On the whole, MANGAL PANDEY is a film of epic proportions. A genuine attempt at bringing alive a great hero on celluloid, the film will only bring pride and prestige in the domestic market as well as on the international platform. At the box-office, with the distributors flooding the market with extensive prints and multiplexes performing 12-15-18 shows a day, the first 4-day weekend [Monday, 15th August is also a holiday] will witness historic collections, with the distributors recovering a major part of their investment from the proceeds of the first week itself. Overall, the merits coupled with its business will undoubtedly make MANGAL PANDEY a big grosser.
The film deserves to be tax-exempted in every state of India, so that the heroic fight of a great freedom fighter has an extensive, wider reach.