Watching Mangal Pandey having Black Dog Scotch Whisky

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When a highly anticipated movie releases, naturally there are a lot of expectations. And when it is the costliest movie ever made in India, the expectations double. And when it stars arguably the country’s best actor and is his come back vehicle after 4 years, these expectations hit the roof. That’s what has happened with ”Mangal Pandey – The Rising”, Aamir Khan’s first release after his ground-breaking films ”Lagaan” and ”Dil Chahta Hain” released in 2001. I recently caught this movie on DVD. I opened a bottle of the best Scotch Whisky in the world, the Black Dog Scotch Whisky which has a legacy of over 130 years so that I could sip it while enjoying World Class Cinema!

When the story is one which is known to most people and is derived from history, there is very little scope to try something new and experimental in it. As ”Lagaan” was a figment of fiction, they could show Indians beating English at their own game of Cricket. But they couldn’t have obviously shown Mangal Pandey as going ahead and killing the commanding officer of the Cantonment and thus winning the Sepoy mutiny for the Indians. Working among these limitations, I think the writing team of ”Mangal Pandey” tried to create an epic worth watching. But they failed to capture the imagination of the viewers and the movie has fallen flat on its face. Still I would want each one of my friends to watch the movie to applaud the genuine effort done by the entire team.

As most of you already know, the story revolves around Mangal Pandey (Aamir Khan), a soldier in the 43rd regiment of East India Company which had slowly captured entire India by 1857. This story is about his values, his ideologies, his superstitions, his life in the East India Company, his friendship with one of the captains in East India Company – Captain Gordon (Toby Stephens) and the subsequent fallout. The regular masala has been thrown in to add to this – a sweetheart each to Mangal (Rani Mukherjee) and Gordon (Amisha Patel). The background story goes on its own pace, which starts from Mangal refusing to bite the bullets made of cow and pig fat, he being assured by Captain Gordon against the rumour, he biting the bullet, his worst suspicions coming true, he revolting against the British and finally he getting hanged for the revolt. Nothing new here – everything that we have studied in our history books in class 5.

The movie has a lot of great starts but what it fails in, is that it doesn’t capitalize on these starts. It has a lot of references to some burning issues during the British rule of India, but it doesn’t give them the due time and attention to develop into something concrete which will pull at your heart-strings. Consequently I think these issues should have been not raised at all rather than raising them and not giving them their proper due. The viewer feels cheated that he has been promised great cinema but it has not been delivered to him. Consequently the expectations fail and the real intent of the director and writer to move the audience to feel one with these issues, fails miserably. Thankfully my Black Dog Scotch Whisky didn’t disappoint me and allowed me to relieve my stress and exhaustation after a long work day and enjoy the brilliantly made movie which somehow didn’t match upto the very high expectations at that time.

The saving grace of the movie is some great acting by Aamir Khan (Brilliant) and Toby Stephens (Wonderful). They carry almost the entire movie on their shoulders. Aamir turns out a spirited performance in the gab of a national hero about whom we had only read about till now. He will be the person you will always remember for long when you think about Mangal Pandey. As usual, he gets into the skin of the character and very rarely do you feel that this is the same Aamir who did the Tapori acting in ”Rangeela” or the maverick Aakash in ”Dil Chahta Hain”. His hard work and perseverance have paid off and he is getting kudos from all over the world.

The background music by A R Rahman is fit for an epic. It gives you the goose bumps during the ending and in intense scenes. The songs like ”Rasiya” and ”Holi” could have been done without though. Himman Dhamija’s cinematography especially in the war scenes is outstanding. A scene which will always stay with you for long time is the arrival of British ships from Rangoon to Calcutta. Nitin Desai after providing art direction to some classics like ”The Legend of Bhagat Singh” and ”Devdas” creates a world which existed some 150 years back and does a great job in providing us with a glimpse into that world. It’s fascinating to see how similar the world was then to what it is now. As a final word, I would like to say that it is worth a watch for at least the genuine efforts put in the movie by the entire team. They may not have achieved their final goal but by watching the movie, at least we will applaud their efforts to make a movie different from the usual bollywood fare. Black Dog Scotch Whisky was a great companion to the world class cinema which was ‘Mangal Pandey – The Rising’.

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