The Rising   The Legend of Mangal Pandey
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Ketan Mehta
scr Farrukh Dhondy
with Aamir Khan, Toby Stephens, Rani Mukerji, Amisha Patel, Coral Beed, Kiron Kher, Amin Hajee, Kailash Kher
release India/UK/US 12.Aug.05
05/India 2h30

Colour and romance: Mukerji and Khan (above), Patel and Stephens

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The Rising This ambitious epic is a thunderously strong examination of how friendship and principles can actually change the world. Audiences put off by the concept of a very long Bollywood romantic-musical-comedy historical epic will be gripped by this one.

In 1857 Mangal Pandey (Khan) is a sepoy, an Indian serving under the command of Britain's East India Company, which by then had controlled the subcontinent for a century with its own laws, military and government. Mangal's a close friend of the sensitive British captain William Gordon (Stephens), but the introduction of a new gun cartridge drives a wedge between them. Greased with cow and pig fat, it's deeply offensive to both Hindus and Muslims. And a small standoff develops into a full-scale indigent rebellion.

On the surface, this is pure Bollywood: colourful sets and costumes, expansive cinematography, big musical numbers, local culture, blood-soaked violence, lusty romance and a cast of hundreds (OK, some scenes feature impressive crowds). What sets this film apart is a storyline that focuses not on the romance (there are two of them here) but on themes and ideologies. It's also a gentle and layered examination of the strong but shaken friendship between two upstanding men who find themselves on the wrong side of the law--and each other.

Khan and Stephens are excellent--introspective and fiercely emotional, with fire in their souls that's outlined clearly right from the start. This means we're never really surprised by their noble actions, no matter how many red herrings the filmmakers throw at us. And it also makes the greedy villains of the piece rather one-dimensional--callous colonialists and impassive local rulers. The company's ruthless avarice is a fairly heavy-handed swipe at today's globalisation, but the point is a strong one.

These global-political issues are vitally important, and are fascinating to see in a film set 150 years ago. But what grips us is the intense humanity that drives the film: tensions between east-west, old-new, male-female and the local castes. These details maybe a bit overwhelming, but they're also fascinating to Western audiences, as is the historical context for the free market system. That it boils over into a massive uprising is hardly surprising. And it's the intimate drama that brings it home.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 9.Jun.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Rising Imad Brohi, Islamabad: 4.5/5 "Excellent movie. Really intense, with powerful performances, especially by Aamir Khan. A review very true." (9.Aug.05)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall