From the indefatigable Dr Hamid Hussain. Some real information.
Mangal Panday – Film, Fiction & Facts
Mangal Panday – The Rising is a big budget Indian film and good research has been done about the history of this incident. Generally, a lot of cinematic license is used in most historical films but Mangal Panday has kept core historical facts intact. As expected, a lot of additional fictional material has been added to make it interesting. Films are essentially about entertainment and not substitutes for history books. There is quite a large body of written material available on the events of 1857. Colonial literature, post independence nationalist literature and leftist writers provide different interpretations of the events of 1857 uprising. I’ll limit myself only to the historical context.
Adrenaline vs. Accuracy
Scene 1- In the beginning of the movie, there is a scene of Afghanistan where Mangal saved his officer’s life during a fire fight. This is not correct. First Anglo-Afghan war was fought in 1839-42 and Mangal’s regiment 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) didn’t serve in Afghanistan. In addition, Mangal was born in 1831 and joined his regiment in 1850, long after the first Anglo-Afghan war.
Scene 2- There is a scene of a British officer of 34th BNI saving a Hindu girl from burning at her husband’s funeral pyre (satti). There is no evidence of an officer of 34th BNI involved in such an affair; however there are reports of such incidents. The most famous one is related to founder of Calcutta Job Charnock. He saved a beautiful Bengali Hindu girl from the satti pyre and later married her. He adopted local customs often wearing native loin cloth (lungi) in public. George Lawrence (brother of famous John and Henry Lawrence) served for forty three years in India and as a young officer serving with 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry he was witness to a satti ceremony in Neemuch. The poor girl’s husband had died in a far off land and his body was not even there at the pyre. She was to be burned alive on the pyre while her departed husband was represented by some of his clothes. Young Lawrence was perturbed and seeing some of his own troopers among the crowd asked them if they would help him if he decided to rescue the girl. Lawrence approached the pyre and told the young girl that he was willing to save his life. The girl thanked him but refused the offer stating that she was willing to die.
Scene 3- Mangal using the new cartridge during firing practice biting it with his teeth. Practice for new cartridges was done at School of Musketry at Dum Dum and soldiers from different regiments were sent to Dum Dm. Drill Havaldar of 34th BNI Mookta Prasad Panday showed his reservation. On March 02, Major John Bontein of Dum Dum School of musketry wrote a letter that few Hindu sepoys have refused to use new cartridge. Soldiers of 2nd BNI (Grenadiers) and 7th BNI had no objection to use of cartridges but one sepoy Petum Singh showed hesitation.
There was serious reservation by many soldiers about new cartridges and reports started to appear in early January 1857 that sepoys were apprehensive about this issue. Many feared that it contained cow and pig fat and some thought it was a deliberate attempt to break their caste and ultimately convert them to Christianity. This feeling was strongest among high caste Hindu sepoys. They talked to British officers and suggested that either wax or oil be used instead of other material.
Film has done very good job at portraying the regimental uniforms and insignia as well as regimental life of the time period. A brief history of Mangal’s regiment 34th BNI can help to understand the background.
Mangal Panday; sepoy number 1446 belonged to the 5th Company of 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI). This regiment was raised in 1786. In 1844, several Bengal infantry regiments showed signs of unrest and protested about bhatta (Foreign Service allowance) when ordered to garrison newly conquered Sindh. Five regiments; 4th, 34th, 64th & 69th Bengal Native Infantry and 7th Bengal Light Cavalry showed signs of unrest. Authorities dealt leniently with all other regiments but it was decided to disband 34th BNI as it held on the longest and finally it was disbanded on March 27, 1844 at Meerut.