Sunday, October 16, 2005

the failure to rise: the sisyphean dregs of mangal pandey (a plea for yeast)

Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
[My City Of Ruins/The Rising/Bruce Springsteen]

It was sheer coincidence that I was listening to Bruce Springsteen's The Rising while typing out my thoughts about ARR's latest Hindi soundtrack -- the much-hyped, eagerly awaited The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey. The reason I was listening to the Springsteen album was because it had The Fuse, which featured (in a rearranged-with-strings version) over the end credits of Spike Lee's 25th hour. Well, that review never got done -- probably because this was not the soundtrack to rekindle my faith in ARR. Unfortunately (and predictably), the thoughts held for the movie as well ...

The good: nice photography, great art and production design

The bad: the soundtrack; the opening song (ma.ngal ma.ngal) completely eliminates all diegetic sound, making it all feel fake right from the word 'go' (and that song becomes an irritating motif scattering aural torture throughout the film); the use of the narrator to translate the goings-on for people who ain't got a clue about English (thus indicating the desire to address the mass market instead of using the device of narration more imaginatively); the item song (heaving bosoms are not an essential part of a period film) [this goes for the faux item song meant to introduce Rani Mukherjee, as well as the second item song rasiyaa wherein jwaalaa and William Gordon surrender to the inevitable call of the flesh) [In Roja Bombay {thanks for the tip, NR: confused the two getting-it-on sequences (with no special appearance in Roja, of course)} we had Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala getting it on while Sonali Bendre cavorted for our viewing pleasure; here Sophiya Haque does the ji.ngaalaalaa honours]

The nice: Sohrab Ardeshir as Sorabji attempting to bribe Lockwood (nice writing; and a good turn from Ardeshir); the choice of Om Puri as the narrator (thank you very much for not choosing Amitabh Bachchan); the short sequence where Gordon comes to try and talk Mangal out of the mutinous path he has adopted

The predictable: the intermission point (we've seen enough Hindi movies in the cinema hall; so have the filmmakers; there's no getting around the fact that we 'know' when it's going to happen)

The cameos: Ravi Jhankal gets reduced to proxying as a singer (with Kailash Kher among others) peppering the filmscape with narrative-slowing songs. ghaaTs can cheer at the brief appearance of Varsha Usgaonkar as raaNii lakshmii baaii. And there's Habib Tanvir wasted as bahaadur shaah zafar.

The perpetuated ludicrousness: the holii song (rock on!) [time to get postmodern, people: try do me a favour, let's play holii from the badly named Waqt: The Race Against Time (it's not a chase movie or a thriller; it's a limpid drama about the relationship between a father and his son -- and no, they are not named waqt, time or time)]

The dismay: Ketan Mehta and Co. clearly channelled all their efforts into making a film from fragments catered to appeal to every section of the audience: there's a sop or two for the critics, meat for the general desii Bollywood audience (song n' dance, love and drama, all that blah), the foreign audience enamoured of "Bollywood" product, the foreign lovers of epics, the foreign critics. The result is something that cannot satisfy all of them. Which makes this a 34-crore sewer explosion.

raucus hallelujachorus: That mud wrestling scene and all its undertones comprise an unintentional source of merriment. Should this be considered this film's Sholay reference? (yet another requirement, it would seem, in almost every mainstream movie these days)

What's the point?: The actual "mutiny" is almost laughable. There's a general clamp on the proceedings, which gives you the benefit of nothing really going overboard, but the disadvantage of a strong sense of déjà vu. The presence of Aamir Khan does nothing (IMHO) for the film or the character (except offering a commercial advantage).

Truly, this was all about the moustache.

Screenplay collaborator Farrukh Dhondy's last screenwriting venture was called Kisna. That almost takes away all the brownie points he got for Split Wide Open and contributions to Maqbool.

Time to locate a copy of Mard (what high concept! The Big B against the British) and get some over-the-top jingoistic Desai drama (replete with Anu Malik songs, outrageous drama, and fierce entertainment).

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