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mangal pandeyBy Rady Ananda
June 12, 2007

The man who inspired Gandhi, 90 years before India’s independence, is Mangal Pandey. This is the story of the first rebellion, the one that destroyed the East India Trading Company. Exquisite costumes, music and choreography carry the film, able to inspire indigenous people from any nation under corporate siege. This film is pure India in character, celebrating the dances, songs and customs of the Hindu people.

Mangal Pandey: The Rising
Producers Bobby Bedi and Deepa Sahi © 2005
Subtitled, 145 mins.

The man who inspired Gandhi, 90 years before India’s independence, is Mangal Pandey. This is the story of the first rebellion, the one that destroyed the East India Trading Company. Exquisite costumes, music and choreography carry the film, able to inspire indigenous people from any nation under corporate siege.

Gather round, gather round, gather round.
The world’s a marketplace, my friends.
Gather round, gather round.
Only shops from end to end, gather round.

You’ll find it all here – it’s all on sale…
Food and drink, trinkets and baubles,
Cloth and grain, friendship and love…
It’s all for sale.

As the model for corporate imperialism, the EIT Company used troops to enforce profitable trade, while exploiting indigenous people and their natural resources. The usurpers made it a crime for anyone but the East India Trading Co. to sell opium. In a particularly violent scene, Indians transcripted into service fire on an entire village that sold opium to a local merchant. They then burn it to the ground.

Mangal Pandey participates in the assault on his own people, and it sows the seeds of his revolutionary paradigm shift. But the critical moment comes over the manufacture of new bullets.

In 1857, one-shot gunpowder was packaged in greased paper. When loading a rifle, a soldier would bite off the end, pour the powder into the barrel, and follow that with a lead ball. Repeatedly denying the rumors of how the paper was made, British commanders ordered the soldiers to “bite the bullet.” When Hindis and Muslims confirm with their own eyes that the bullets they must bite are made with the fat of pigs and cows, violating their religious beliefs, rebellion is born.

Mangal asks about the Company, trying to understand capitalism. His friend, British Captain William Gordon, explains.

“You have a story about Ravenna, the chap with ten heads, right? The Company has thousands of heads, all stuck together by the glue of greed.”

Not only does the film criticize slavery and capitalism, but it also turns a critical eye on the religious culture of tying a live widow to her husband’s funeral pyre, as well as India’s caste system. Through these mechanisms, romantic subplots are developed for the two main characters, as well as their friendship with each other.

This is no Hollywood film that overdoes violence for the sake of gore. It is pure India in character – celebrating the dances, songs and customs of the Hindu people. The music in this film motivates and energizes.

It reminds me how much I miss freely dancing in the streets. It reminds me that organic community dancing celebrates life, allowing us to laugh and flirt and love out loud, while exhibiting the body beautiful – in whatever shape, size or color.

A troupe of singers, atop a decorated elephant, rally the people to rebel. Its tune is inspiring and exciting:

Awaken, arise and be blessed
Awaken, arise and may all be blessed.
The towns are awake; the homes are abuzz; every village is astir.
Valleys awaken and so do their trees – look, shadows are coming to life!

Awaken, arise and be blessed
Awaken, arise and may all be blessed.
No hand can stem the fire that rages in people’s hearts
Eyes ablaze and spirits aflame – no head will ever bow again

A changed people fill the streets, marching into death’s embrace.
Rising like a storm unstoppable, stirring the land in its wake.
They swear to crush and finally end this dark age of tyranny

Awaken, arise and be blessed
Awaken, arise and may all be blessed
.

As we Americans watch our Constitution be dissembled, our elections removed from citizen control, our waters and land poisoned, and our sons and daughters killed in resource wars that profit but a few, only one question remains. Will we “swim with the rising tide of resistance” as the Indians did, or will we drown in the profit-crazed corporatocracy?

Whether it takes a year or a century, people have the final say. Mangala, people, mangala. Awaken, arise and be blessed.

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