Hindus call for ban on Bollywood Mutiny epic

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The Independent Online

The Rising, a 150-minute epic filmed in English and starring the heart-throb Aamir Khan, has been a box-office success in the US and Britain, grossing more than £220,000 in its first weekend in the the UK. Directed by Ketan Mehta, the film is the first time the Indian version of events during the so-called Indian Mutiny has reached a popular audience in the West.

But in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, real-life home of the hero of the movie, Mangal Pandey, there are calls for it to be banned from residents of the village that claims to be Pandey's home as well as the Hindu nationalists.

Pandey was an Indian soldier serving under the British. On 29 March 1857 he attacked and injured a British sergeant and an officer on parade at Barrackpore, near Calcutta. His actions were to have extraordinary consequences, triggering rebellions by soldiers across north India that came close to overturning British rule.

The rebel leader is widely understood to have been incensed at rumours that Indian soldiers were being issued a new cartridge sealed with fat from cows and pigs. The soldiers were under orders to break the seals by biting the bullets but biting cow-fat was religiously unacceptable to Hindus, as was biting pig-fat to Muslims. The issue became a catalyst for a population simmering with resentment against British rule.

Though the film presents a generally heroic picture of Pandey, The Rising's detractors have accused Mr Mehta of "distorting historical facts". In Nagwa, believed to be Pandey's home village, people are angry that there is no mention of their village in the film and demanded one be inserted.

More seriously for Mr Mehta, the demand for a ban has been echoed by far more influential voices, including ministers in the state government of UP. The politicians are enraged at scenes which show Pandey visiting a brothel and drinking alcohol, and want the film banned unless these scenes are cut.

Since Pandey is seen as a stout defender of Hindu beliefs, scenes of him enjoying illicit pleasures have caused uproar. The objections have been further fuelled by Indian resentment over long-standing British claims that, far from standing up for principle at Barrackpore, at the time Pandey was intoxicated on bhang, a cannabis derivative. The claims have traditionally been dismissed in India as propaganda.

The uprising of 1857 was an episode from which neither side came out spotless. There was brutality on both sides. Indians forced British who had surrendered on to boats they then sank. British women and children were hacked to pieces and their remains thrown down a well. The British tied live Indian soldiers across the mouths of cannon and blew them to pieces.