Monday, August 15, 2005

Language issues in Mangal Pandey: The Rising

The English actors speak quite a bit of Hindi in Mangal Pandey: The Rising, and they do it more fluidly and correctly than I've seen in any other Hindi film. There's more here than in Lagaan, certainly, and more also than in the recent flop film Kisna (which was a breakthrough for Bollywood in some ways despite failing as a film; my review here). So I give props to Toby Stephens especially for putting in the extra hours to try and get it right. Props also to the director Ketan Mehta for not simply copping out of the language issue with the usual solution, namely, reducing white actors' roles to an absolute minimum. (Most of the time, white actors in Hindi period films speak only the kind of functional, imperative voice Hindi a Sahib might use with a servant: "darvaaza khul!".)

The issue of Toby Stephens' use of Hindi relates to my earlier SM post on language vs. race in Hindi films. If audiences accept the Toby Stephens character in this movie, it might challenge my claim that badly accented or phonetically incorrect Hindi is unacceptable to mainstream audiences. He's on screen a lot, and many of his lines go well beyond the usual "Baar aa jao!" type of fare. Stephens has to convey quieter emotions -- tenderness, ambivalence, regret -- a tall order even in one's first language. I personally thought Stephens' Hindi was ok: phonetically correct and generally intelligible, though not all of the time. More importantly, he's not convincing in Hindi some of the time. (And as an ABCD, I'm possibly being overly gentle on this score.)

So I have my doubts about whether The Rising really pulls it off; many of the people in the audience where I saw the film (in New Jersey) were tittering when Toby Stephens first started speaking. They eventually stopped, but I'm not at all convinced it was the silence of satisfaction.

The film might fail for other reasons too. I found it bombastic and over-the-top in the usual way of patriotic Hindi films. Some of the dialogue was truly ridiculous, in the vein of: "After a hundred years of the British Raj, the minds of us Indians have grown rusty. But this grease [i.e., from the cartridges of the Enfield rifles] has made them move again..." At times, it seemed like it was a movie about the greased cartridges, not so much the wrongs of imperialism or emergent Indian nationalism. On a more narrative level, The Risinghad too much testosterone with nowhere to go: this a patriotic "war" movie without much war in it.

So I don't quite see where the New York Times is coming from, with their positive review. And I have my doubts about whether Indian audiences will find this story interesting after, or separate from, August 15. We'll see.


Blogger Naim Peress said...

Dear Amardeep,

Most of your criticisms of the film are quite sound. However, I think the film works because it's about a heroic sacrifice. In addition, you see how Mangal Pandey's sacrifice gave life to the idea of Indian independence. I'm a native-born American but I could not help but think of our Founding Fathers when I saw the film. It was very moving. Perhaps you'd like to check out what else I thought of the film at Take care.


8:13 PM  
Anonymous jaspreet said...

Maybe it doesn't matter how well any Non indian can speak hindi, they will always regarded as something akin to a talking dog, because the idea of being India has such an ethnic component.

Instead we have an idea of an idea of the West diluted and packaged for Indian consumption, which can be characterised as sex. violence & conspicous consumption.

Interesting Indian films seem to be greating increasingly strident in their overt nationalism, nothing can match KKKK scene where an assorted bunch of nationalities burst into tears and sing the Jana Gana Mana.
regards from over the pond

3:09 AM  
Blogger geekgod said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:42 AM  
Blogger geekgod said...

Creation of a suitable other is an essentiality for the survival of Brahmin supremacy in India. If you were searching for facts in that movie, I would say it was you who was at fault. It's just a jingoist about the So called hero Mangal Pandey.
What you call a country which still discriminate against its majority??
Yes if you can go by the facts and figures dalits are having a numerical majority in India. In a country you call fre, a Dhalit can not hoist her national flag.
check out the article

8:50 AM  
Blogger Amardeep said...


That's true, there is an ethnocentrism there. Though I think Toby Stephens makes some important strides in this film. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And I'm very glad the Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham version of India has not come to utterly dominate Bollywood. There are also some interesting, subversive movies coming out (like Page 3 this spring, or Parineeta).

Naim and Geekgod, thanks for your comments. I'll check out the links.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Naim Peress and would take it a step further, as an american there are many parallels with our experience and that of Indians. But I must ask: am I really taken as a "talking dog" when I try to speak hindi to my Indian co-workers?!

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to geekgod

about the dalit thing it might be true that there are some people who have anti-dalit views, but i don't think that is true for the whole country. And also do you know what is a Panchayat? It is a group of five elderly people who solve legal disputes in a small village. and a sarpanch is the head of this group. This is simillar to the Supreme Court and Sarpanch is like the chief justice. So i find it hard to believe that one would be ok with having a dalit as a sarpnach(not even a regular panch, but the head of all the panches) and not be ok with them hoisting a flag.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and also in adition to the post above, even in US there is still some segeregation, i have heard a lot of controversies about partiality, but america is concidered free. So i think that we should give these non dalit views two more generations, and i am very sure that they will dissapear, after all it took US 200 years to get rid of segregation laws, which i am pretty sure have never existed in the india constitution since the person who wrote it was a DALIT. And its been more than 220 years and anti black feelings are still present in the US The neo-nazi march last month, and india has only been free for 58 years right now, i would wait before criticising it like that.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to anonymous: do you think that nobody was working to promote the acceptance and equality of black in American society? It takes time, yes. Also, it takes awareness, it takes people speaking out about what is going on (which I have read can be dangerous for Dalits as they quite often face violent retribution from people of the higher castes, in the more conservative rural areas anyway). Just waiting and seeing is not enough to promote change... Also, oppression of Dalits goes back much further than the Indian consitution. It goes back to the Laws of Manu, which state that "The dwellings of the Untouchables must be outside the village...." (Laws of Manu 10.51-57)

I don't know if the constitution is able to practically override this farreaching religious origin of discrimination.

10:36 AM  

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