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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Going for jingoism

The UK Film Council, which helped in funding The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, have come under attack for the historical inaccuracies that the film is allegedly littered with. The Telegraph reports:
The £6.5 million production, which is largely in English and which opened across Britain on Friday, accuses the [British East India] company of murdering civilians to further its interests and of flouting the Empire-wide ban on slavery.

In one scene an officer is shown bidding for a slave girl who is sent to a brothel for the exclusive use of British officers. Later, a fellow officer orders the destruction of a village and its defenceless inhabitants after they refuse to set aside land for opium production.

Saul David, the author of the acclaimed The Indian Mutiny: 1857, attacked the depictions as fabrication.

"I am no apologist for the British East India Company but I have never come across any evidence which supports either of these assertions," he said. "It is nonsense. Of course a certain amount of criticism is justified but this sounds like vilification of the British just for the sake of it."
There is controversy over how the mutiny began as well. The report continues:
Mr David is scathing about the film's central claim that the bloody events of 1857 were sparked by the company's insistence that Muslim and Hindu sepoys used bullet casings covered in beef and pork fat.

The historian says many sepoys who took part in the uprising wrongly assumed that they were being asked to use casings that contravened their religious beliefs. In reality, he insists, the company withdrew the cartridges in the light of the concerns and did not issue them to a single sepoy.

The film's version of events is rather different. Not only are the bullets issued but an officer threatens to slaughter reluctant sepoys with a cannon unless they agree to use them.
I quite agree with the criticism. A certain amount of liberty can be taken with a historical film, but not to the extent of manufacturing so much history, and jingoistic and ludicrous scenes like that cannon sequence. The reason the film-makers do this is because of the anti-globalisation stance Bobby Bedi, the film's producer, articulates at the end of the article. He says:
We live in a world where some companies try to exert as much influence over the world as possible and the film should be seen in that context. The idea of the slave trade being used to staff brothels is conjecture on our part.
Naturally such a juvenile stance can be backed only by conjecture, not facts. The film's naive political agenda was articulated by Aamir Khan as well, in a recent interview to Time Out in which he said:
The script questions the right of any superpower to move into another civilisation and control and loot it economically and socially try and change its norms. Which is also what's happening today, that's what America is doing all over the world. [...] I felt, arre, this happened in 1857 in India, it's happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan!
And there, in one casual sentence, he condones the barbaric regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussain. (I also find the bit about "this happened in 1857 in India" amusing, because what he shows in the film did not, as it turns out, happen.) Afghanistan is certainly better off since the Americans got there and, far from "loot[ing] it economically", they've spent tonloads of money in that place, just as they have done in Iraq. Aamir's analogies are ludicrous and ignorant.

There are good reasons to criticise the war in Iraq, and many more reasons to condemn imperialism, as indeed it should be condemned. But the makers of this film do those causes a disservice.

Update: Other bloggers weigh in on the subject: Amardeep Singh calls the film "bombastic and over-the-top" while Arun Simha calls it "a bhel-puri that is laughable". Hmmm.
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