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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2005, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Historian doubts mutiny film plot
Aamir Khan in The Rising
Aamir Khan (centre) plays soldier Mangal Pandey in The Rising
Bollywood epic Mangal Pandey: The Rising's depiction of events leading to India's 1857 mutiny is "nonsense", a UK historian has said.

Backed by the UK Film Council, the 5.5m movie accuses British East India Company rulers of murdering civilians and flouting a slavery ban.

"I have never come across any evidence which supports either of these assertions," historian Saul David said.

Producer Bobby Bedi told the Telegraph that the film was not anti-British.

'Independence war'

Hindu and Muslim soldiers revolted against the British East India Company in 1857 over fears that gun cartridges were greased with animal fat forbidden by their religions.

Directed by Ketan Mehta, the film centres around soldier Mangal Pandey, played by Aamir Khan, who was executed for his role in the uprising.

The Rising is billed as "an epic tale of friendship, betrayal, love and sacrifice set against the backdrop of what the British called the sepoy mutiny but which for Indians was the First War of Independence".

Rani Mukherjee in The Rising
Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee plays a prostitute in the film
Saul David, author of The Indian Mutiny: 1857, said: "Of course a certain amount of criticism is justified but this sounds like vilification of the British just for the sake of it."

He questioned a scene in which a British officer ordered the destruction of a village after its inhabitants refused to set aside land for opium production.

"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 added.

Conservative arts spokesman Hugo Swire queried the government-backed UK Film Council's decision to invest 150,000 in the film, which opened in the UK and India on Friday.

"I would be interested to know by what criteria the film council judged this film to be worthy of financial backing," Mr Swire told the Daily Telegraph.

"I personally think the council should concentrate on supporting British films."

'Quality not politics'

The UK Film Council said it supported projects on the basis of "quality, not politics".

Last week Indian historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee expressed reservations about Pandey's role in the 1857 rebellion.

"Even 148 years after the event and after a considerable amount of research on the subject, we have little or no precise knowledge about Mangal Pandey," he said.

But director Ketan Mehta said the film took two years to complete because a "lot of research went into the production".

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