3.3 Why might an interpretations-focused enquiry question offer a useful approach to the Indian Rebellion?

A focus on how people in later times have reconstructed and presented the Indian Rebellion enables pupils to see the Rebellion as a subject that is open to continuing debate and argument. By explicitly studying the different ways in which the Indian Rebellion has been interpreted through films, websites, art, literature, museums, scholarly writing and other forms of interpretation, we enable pupils to make a vital connection between the past and the present.  

The enquiries ‘Why can't people agree about the Indian Rebellion?', Why do historians and film-makers say such different things about the Indian Rebellion? or Why have such different stories been told about the Indian Rebellion? Could each offer a particularly rich context for pupils' learning.  Each of these enquiry questions forces pupils:

  • to engage with the significant aspects of the Rebellion
  • to understand why the Indian Rebellion continues to have contemporary resonance

The controversy over the 2005 Bollywood film, Mangal Pandey: The Rising would make an excellent focus for an interpretations-focused enquiry.

The following article from the Telegraph provides an insight into some of the issues raised by the film:


Lottery-funded film under fire for anti-British bias
Chris Hastings and Beth Jones Telegraph, London 13/08/2005

The Government-backed UK Film Council has been attacked for investing £150,000 of lottery funds in a Bollywood film that savages British rule in India. Historians say The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, which is the most expensive film ever made in India, is littered with historical inaccuracies. The movie, which features Bollywood star Aamir Khan and the British actor Toby Stephens, is damning about the rule of the British East India company in the years leading up to the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The £6.5 million production, which is largely in English and which opened across Britain on Friday, accuses the company of murdering civilians to further its interests and of flouting the Empire-wide ban on slavery.

In one scene an officer is shown bidding for a slave girl who is sent to a brothel for the exclusive use of British officers. Later, a fellow officer orders the destruction of a village and its defenceless inhabitants after they refuse to set aside land for opium production. Saul David, the author of the acclaimed The Indian Mutiny: 1857, attacked the depictions as fabrication. "I am no apologist for the British East India Company but I have never come across any evidence which supports either of these assertions," he said. "It is nonsense. Of course a certain amount of criticism is justified but this sounds like vilification of the British just for the sake of it." He added: "The East India Company did trade in opium but I have no knowledge of a massacre like this and I do not believe it happened."

Mr David is scathing about the film's central claim that the bloody events of 1857 were sparked by the company's insistence that Muslim and Hindu sepoys used bullet casings covered in beef and pork fat. The historian says many sepoys who took part in the uprising wrongly assumed that they were being asked to use casings that contravened their religious beliefs. In reality, he insists, the company withdrew the cartridges in the light of the concerns and did not issue them to a single sepoy. The film's version of events is rather different. Not only are the bullets issued but an officer threatens to slaughter reluctant sepoys with a cannon unless they agree to use them.

Hugo Swire, the Conservative arts spokesman, questioned the wisdom of supporting such a film. "I would be interested to know by what criteria the Film Council judged this film to be worthy of financial backing," he said. "It is not particularly helpful in the current climate. I personally think the council should concentrate on supporting British films. I do not see why they see the need to support a movie financially that has been produced by the Indian film industry."

Bobby Bedi, the film's producer, accepted that some of the scenes were conjecture but he insisted the film was against the British East Indian Company, not anti-Britain. He compared the British East Indian Company with Enron, the disgraced American energy company, and said the film had to be seen in the context of contemporary globalisation. "We live in a world where some companies try to exert as much influence over the world as possible and the film should be seen in that context." He added: "The idea of the slave trade being used to staff brothels is conjecture on our part."

A spokesman for the Film Council said it supported projects on the basis of "quality, not politics".

Copyright the Telegraph. Reproduced by permission of the Telegraph.



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