Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Was he a real hero, or just one of the grumblers who got charged up after consuming bhang and spoiled a real conspiracy? Did his action have anything to do with the real revolt of 1857?
Historians, both British and Indian, had largely ignored Mangal Pandey’s revolt. Till V.D. Savarkar, who is credited with describing the revolt as a war of Independence (for record’s sake, the first to describe it so was James Outram), discovered him. Savarkar made him a hero in his book.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee, who has done extensive research on the 1857 revolt, and recently authored the book Mangal Pandey: Brave Martyr or Accidental Hero, seems to think that Pandey was no hero. The cartridge (allegedly greased with pork or beef fat) issue had caused much resentment among both Hindu and Muslim troops who suspected that the British were conspiring to break their caste and religion.
The troopers of 5th Company, 24th Regiment, Native Infantry, also were agitated about it and probably discussed some action in the night. But on the afternoon of March 29, 1857, Sepoy Mangal Pandey appeared with a loaded musket in front of the quarterguard and shouted expletives at his comrades for not joining him. He was, apparently, under the influence of bhang (he admitted to it in the court-martial presided over by Subedar-Major H.L. Tewary with 14 other Indian subedars and jamedars who sentenced him to death for mutiny).
The naik who reported the matter to Sergeant-Major Hewson did mention that Pandey was under the influence of bhang. Hewson ordered a jamedar to seize him; he refused. Pandey fired at Hewson, but missed him. A few sepoys tried to persuade Pandey to surrender; but he refused. Pandey then shot at Lt. Baugh; the bullet only hit his horse. Baugh approached Pandey on foot and they struck each other with their talwars. Hewson tried to help Baugh, but someone knocked him from behind.
Finally Major-General John Hear-sey threatened the other jamedars. As some of them approached, Pandey shot himself. The bullet made a deep graze on the chest, shoulder and neck. Pandey was seized and taken to hospital. This was all the action that took place in Barrackpore. Many similar mutinies over other issues had taken place in the company army earlier.
Pandey’s action took place in Barrackpore. There is no evidence that the real mutineers, who broke out from Meerut, marched to Delhi and gallantly challenged the British by declaring Bahadur Shah Zafar as their emperor, had even heard of Mangal Pandey, let alone be inspired by him.
During trial, Pandey made no defence. Yes, I have been taking bhang and opium of late, but formerly never touched any drugs, he had said. I was not aware at the time of what I was doing.
Aamir khan as Mangal Pandey
Film-maker Ketan Mehta strongly believes in his weltanschaung. Had it not been so, he would not have approached Aamir Khan with a script when the latter was in Los Angeles promoting Lagaan for the 2002 Oscars. Ketan knew well that Aamir was a man who stood by his convictions. "A revolutionary and a rebel in his own way," said Ketan. Like Mangal Pandey.
Mangal Pandey: The Rising, which is scheduled to release on August 12, is a dream Ketan has nursed for 17 years.
The journey was not an easy one. Ketan’s script went through a long gestation period. It was only when producer Bobby Bedi came into the picture about four years ago that things started rolling, albeit gradually. After Aamir accepted the role of Mangal Pandey, Ketan could finally see his dream taking shape.
He wanted to work only with the most talented cast and crew. His casts—including Toby Stephens, Rani Mukherjee and Amisha Patel—whom he handpicked were closely scrutinized to make sure they fit the bill. Stephens, widely acclaimed for his role in the Bond flick Die Another Day, had to undergo a series of screen tests to bag the role.
I have realised that actors are very greedy people, said Ketan. You give them a challenge and they like to grab it. For the character of the courtesan Hira, who plays the conscience of the film, and—to a large extent—of the country in that period, Ketan zeroed in on Rani. Amisha plays Jwala, a widow.
He entrusted the job of composing the music and the background score to A.R. Rehman. Javed Akhtar, whom the director hails as one of the greatest poets of our time", was brought in to write the lyrics. Ketan is convinced that there is "not a single false note in the performance of any character.