Why 'The Rising' can't afford to fall
There is much that is going for Mangal Pandey - The Rising. The cast of the film is led by an actor (Aamir Khan) who is known to be a stickler for perfection. The script of Mangal Pandey has been written by a man (Farrukh Dhondy) who rarely (if you discount Kisna) delivers anything less than interesting. And the film has been helmed by Ketan Mehta, a gifted director who has much to reclaim.
More important, the men in charge of the promotion of Mangal Pandey - The Rising (producer Bobby Bedi and distributor Yashraj Films) know exactly how to go about the job of packaging and positioning a film. They are clearly winning the early rounds: no film since the release of Yash Chopra's Veer-Zaara late last year has generated quite the kind of buzz that Ketan Mehta's upcoming historical epic has done.
However, the fact that a huge amount of money and numerous reputations are riding on the film scheduled for worldwide release on August 12 is only one of the numerous reasons why the box office fate of the magnum opus will be watched with keen interest.
The production of Mangal Pandey - The Rising is rumoured to have cost nearly Rs 40 crore.
It goes without saying that the film will not only have to take a bumper initial but also then go on to sustain audience enthusiasm for the next few weeks for it to be declared a bona fide commercial success.
Clearly, Mangal Pandey isn't your average Bollywood release. It is Aamir Khan's first release since 2001, when the slow-and-steady Bollywood star had two films, Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai, in the theatres. It is also Ketan Mehta's first feature in over seven years. It also happens to be India's first truly international film production, with an actor of the stature of Toby Stephens, playing a key screen role. The level of mass interest in Mangal Pandey is, therefore, extremely high.
Bobby Bedi and Yashraj Films have understandably decided to adopt a tried-and-tested strategy: Mangal Pandey will monopolise all the major screens, including those in the multiplexes, in the big cities, in the next week. Nothing less than the maximum will do for a film of this size and scale.
The protracted lull at the box office, caused partly by the absence of big-ticket films and partly by the devastating Mumbai floods, is also bound to work in favour of Mangal Pandey. Audiences have been starved of an epic entertainer for a while and it would be only natural if Mangal Pandey opens really strong at the cash counters.
The wide range of genres represented by the Bollywood films that have clicked at the box office this year is, of course, another cause for the optimism that will accompany Mangal Pandey - The Rising to the theatres. There is no reason why an audience that has wholeheartedly accepted films Black, Page 3 and Parineeta will not vote with their feet for the latest Aamir Khan starrer.
But there are a few worries. The makers of Mangal Pandey are at pains to assert that the film isn't an out-and-out historical. Apart from being cast in the mould of a mass entertainer, it mixes the real-life historical events with liberal doses of the mythical. While there was a time when historical dramas and mythological epics were widely accepted popular Hindi movie genres, they have dropped off the picture in recent decades.
No film woven around the life of a historical figure has quite worked in recent years. Some of India's finest filmmakers have given the genre a shot but without much success. The latest to burn his fingers has been none other than Shyam Benegal, whose biopic, Bose - The Forgotten Hero, made little headway at the box office.
Before him, Ketan Mehta himself made Sardar, a screen biography of Vallabhbhai Patel, over a decade ago, while Marathi theatre and film personality Jabbar Patel crafted Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in the year 2000. Though these films were critically acclaimed, they made no impact on the masses. Ved Rahi's Veer Savarkar, made in 2001 with the active support of right-wing political forces, fared even worse - it was barely seen, let alone acknowledged.
In a more mainstream moviemaking space, Rajkumar Santoshi made The Legend of Bhagat Singh in 2002, with Ajay Devgan playing the eponymous freedom fighter with striking finesse. But faced with gratuitous competition from several me-too Bhagat Singh biopics, including one featuring Sunny Deol, The Legend of Bhagat Singh did not quite go down in the annals of Hindi cinema as a path breaker.
Will Mangal Pandey - The Rising end up changing the course of recent Hindi cinema history? It certainly stands a far better chance than the aforementioned films did. For one, it is not a 'historical' in the strictest sense of the term. Mangal Pandey - The Rising is closer in spirit and execution to flamboyant Hollywood films like Rob Roy and Braveheart, both of which were set in Scotland in different periods of history, than it is to more straightforward screen biographies like Sardar and Bose.
Ketan Mehta's new film blends elements of historicity with much myth-making in a manner that is reminiscent of the historical films of Sohrab Modi. So, interestingly Mangal Pandey - The Rising could denote a return to the roots of the past even as it attempts to march into the future of the Indian movie business. It is for this reason, more than for any other, that it is imperative for the film to strike it rich in the marketplace. If it does, filmmaking in India will never be the same again.
Courtesy: Wide Angle