[Marxism] The Rising

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 15 12:07:16 MDT 2005


The Rising

The Rising is a Bollywood movie - with a vibrant palette and a song on the 
lips - unless it is a historical epic with a vibrant palette and a scowl on 
the lips. Oscillating between scenes of village life, romantic intrigue, 
communal harmony and British racism, oppression, exploitation, it sets the 
viewer up perfectly for the inevitable Uprising that follows.

There are set pieces of “history” that are told through captions and 
explained in a voice-over by Om Puri. The British East India Company was 
corrupt; it fixed the system and called it “Free Market”; it destroyed 
lives and villages; it considered the Indians superstitious fools; the 
Company was white and the Indians were black [dogs]. Don’t look here for 
any nuance. Amidst the history lives Bollywood. Songs break out with marked 
frequency - silver ghongroos and all. The film manages to show us a 
traditional mujra; a rajasthani/gypsy drum-beat; the inevitable and 
unescapable Holi number; a qawwali; an a-capella barbershop quartet - all 
in the service of showing the diversity and harmony of India. The English 
get a loony looking masked ball/halloween party.

Historical dramas are notoriously hard to pull off - not least because the 
cost of getting the period details right is prohibitive. Add to that the 
ire of history buffs and “aggrieved” parties, and it becomes a uninviting 
challenge for anyone. But. Like I said, The Rising isn’t really a 
historical drama - even though it wants to tell the history of the Mangal 
Pandey - it is romanticized history designed to have a universal market. It 
is a crowd-pleaser that has its anti-imperialism raw and upfront. Sadly, 
the anti-imperialism doesn’t go beyond platitudes and simplistic 
statements. Take, for example, the issue of exploitation. The narrator 
tells us that EIC is forcing Indian farmers to grow opium, buying the opium 
at fixed rates and shipping it to China. There are two elements of this 
story thread that are noteworthy. First, is that the Indian collaborator, a 
Parsi businessman, is shown to be profiting along with the English. At that 
point, the audience has a hint of what made EIC rule possible. However, the 
black-and-white [no pun intended] history of The Rising cannot sustain an 
Indian of dubious morality, so the Parsi redeems himself by showing Mangal 
Pandey the truth behind the cartridges. That was it. There are no other 
Indians who even remotely appear compromised. Second, is that while opium 
becomes a “bad thing” within the anti-imperial discourse in the movie
sure gets consumed a lot by everyone involved. Mangal Pandey has numerous 
shots of downing jugs of bhang. Grandmas to newborns all have a taste for 
the poppy.

Am I coming off negatively? Cause I loved the movie. I did. But, then, I am 
not in the habit of going to the multiplex to get my history lessons. The 
acting, cinematography, visual design are all impeccable. Aamir Khan 
carries a mustache like Burt Reynolds can only dream of and his glower can 
only be matched by Denzel Washington. In fact, these two, Khan and 
Washington, need to make a movie together. Toby Stephens does a good job 
with Hindi and with the script. Rani Mukerji’s bosom should get its own 

The Rising is a good set-piece to follow Lagaan. It has some powerful 
moments [Mangal’s wedding, Mangal’s biting of the cartridge]. It has a song 
and a dance geared for the international audience. It wants to show us the 
“exotic” India just as much as it wants to proclaim that the Indians are 
like anyone else [snakecharmers and firebreathers notwithstanding]. There 
is a healthy dose of nationalism as well of populism and communal harmony. 
What’s not to like? At some point, us historians will have to chuck the 
books and start writing screenplays and novels. Why let the Farrukh Dhondys 
and the Dan Browns enjoy all the fruits of our labor?

ps. yes, I am not going to nitpick the history presented in the movie. 
There is no point in that. Incidentally, if you want to see a fantastic 
“fictional” movie about 1857, try Shyam Benegal’s Junoon.



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