India, 1857. The ‘divide and rule’ policy of the East India Company is firmly entrenched. It is a testing time for all concerned when a new rifle, the Enfield, is introduced for use by the sepoys, the Indian soldiers in the British army: the cartridge is coated with a mixture of cow and pig fat. This has to be bitten before being loaded, an abhorrent practice for both Hindus, for whom the cow is sacred, and Muslims, who regard the pig as unclean. One soldier, Mangal Pandey (Aamir Khan), challenges this policy, but in the process he risks losing his life, his love Heera (Rani Mukherjee) and his close (homoerotic?) friendship with a sympathetic British officer, William Gordon (Toby Stephens). Mehta’s account of the Sepoy Mutiny, or ‘India’s first war of independence’, which led to the collapse of ‘the Company’ and the imposition of direct British rule, is an ambitious epic with its heart in the right place, a story grounded in truth. It is engaging but sadly fails to move the emotions. This is largely due to a script which tries to cram in as much critique of the period as possible: the inequity of the caste system, the horror of suttee, the iniquitous opium trade, the evils of Empire. This leaves little room for the various characters to develop. That said, it is rousing entertainment with strong performances from its beautiful leads. AR Rahman’s rustic compositions add to the appeal of a technically well-crafted film which is a must-see for Indophiles. Comparisons to Khan’s earlier release, the superior Oscar-nominated ‘Lagaan’ (2001), are inevitable, but this is a worthy, intelligent follow-up.
|Release date:||Friday August 12 2005|
Cast and crew