Four years after his impressive performance in the Oscar nominated Lagaan, Aamir Khan returns in Ketan Mehta's The Rising. Another Bollywood epic steeped in history, this time round colonial cricket is replaced with crooked cartridges in the story of Mangal Pandey (Khan), an ordinary infantryman who rises against the British Empire and single-handedly stirs up the first Indian Mutiny of 1857. Based on real historical events, this sweeping saga is drenched in valour but dry of sentiment.
Brit actor Toby Stephens plays William Gordon, a gutsy army captain who is rescued by Pandey during the Afghan wars. Despite differences in rank and race the unlikely pair become firm friends. But years later when the British East India Company are plundering India, the duo's loyalty is tested with the introduction of controversial new gun cartridges, which require the Muslim and Hindu troops to bite through their casings greased with animal fat. Forcing them to go against their religious beliefs, it's no shocker that mutiny breaks out with pint-sized Mangal growing in stature to lead the Indians to freedom.
"STUMBLES TO ENGAGE ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL"
As one of the most ambitious crossover projects to emerge out of India in recent times, The Rising succeeds in entertaining and educating audiences about an important turning point in Indian history. However, where it stumbles is in its inability to engage on an emotional level. While Khan and Stephens exude passion in both their camaraderie and respective love stories with prostitute Heera (Rani Mukerji) and young widow Jwala (Amisha Patel), they inexplicably lack conviction when it comes to highlighting the film's core message - the spirit of freedom. The blame lies not in their performances but perhaps Mehta's uninspiring direction.