Finally. The most awaited movie of the year. Ketan Mehta's magnum opus.
We feared not getting tickets at Singapore's only dedicated Hindi movie theatre - Bedok, especially it being a saturday night. But we took the chance anyway. This was worth it. Or was it?
The movie is mounted on a lavish scale. The setting is BIG and so is the canvas. It aspires to be a sweeping epic of the scale of a 'Braveheart' or a 'Patriot'. It is a big screen experience. Watching it on the telly on VCD or DVD would not do it justice. The fact that the movie is doing very well commercially is a good thing. But it need not necessarily be good cinema that does well at the box-office. The Rising is good cinema. But far from the 'best thing to come out of Bollwood' status that it is being accorded by the producers, director and actors. I must admit it did fall short of expectations.
The first hour of the movie is almost flawless - gripping, smooth and concentrates on character sketching. It involves the viewer into the story and he's now waiting for the buildup to an explosion of a climax. Then there is the intermission and its all downhill from there. First, jarring item songs take centre stage. They actually impede the progress of the narrative. Just when you expect the story to go forward, there appears a song to befuddle you with regards to its purpose. Four songs could easily have been done away with. The fact that AR Rahman's music is at best average also adds to the frustration.
The fictitious love angles could have easily been done away with. The Toby Stephens/Amisha Patel is the more sensitive of the two tracks, and could have developed further. However, these bits were inconsequential to the story. Rani and Amisha are competant in their 'blink and and you'll miss them' roles.
The movie comes across as without a soul. It lacks that passion which was so ubiquitious in 'Lagaan'. The motivation of Mangal to start the freedom movement just doesn't come through. The director tries to get it across through a few 'black man flogging' and 'village burning' scenes but Mangal's interaction with the time's socio-political environment remains superficial at best.
Why did he feel the need to rise up and take to arms? The fact that Mangal was religious enough to be affected by the cartidge biting episode doesn't evoke any strong feelings with the viewer. Both Muslims and Hindus were affected by the cartidges, but there seemed to be little or no response from the Muslims. These threads could have been built up further rather than the characters breaking in to song and dance at the drop of a hat. The scene where Mangal takes on the whole Rangoon platoon single handed could have been the scene of the decade had it been developed, but it ends all too soon.
Having said that, the movie does have its strengths. The Toby Stephens/ Aamir Khan friendship is sensitively potrayed. The acting is first rate. Toby Stephens does a bang up job. Despite most of his dialogue being in Hindi, he exels as Capt. William Gordon. Aamir Khan is good as usual and comes up with a fine performance. The cameo-characters, 'Lol bibi' and 'Nainsukh the sweeper' are perfectly positioned. The title song is one that remains with the viewer much after the end of the film. Cinematography is fabulous. One feels completely transported back to the 1850s. It focuses well on the workings of the East India Company and brings to light issues of the time like the opium trade, the caste sytem and suttee. Some scenes like the one in which Gordon explains to Mangal what the Company is all about is one of the best shot in Indian cinema.
This could have been great cinema instead of good cinema. Ketan Mehta, who brought us movies like 'Sardar' and 'Bhavni Bhavai' , succumbs to commercial charms. One wonders why. Did someone tell him that western audiences love song and dance routines? Was he trying to replicate the Lagaan formula?
What could have been a true epic ends up being part documentary and part masala Bollywood and hence lacks clear identity and focus. However, make up your own mind. It is worth a watch at least.