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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
India mutiny epic open in cinemas
Aamir Khan in The Rising
Aamir Khan plays Mangal Pandey, an Indian soldier
One of India's most awaited films, Mangal Pandey - The Rising starring Bollywood star Aamir Khan, has opened in cinemas in India and UK.

Actor and producer Khan's film is set against the backdrop of the Indian mutiny of 1857, with British actor Toby Stephens in a key role.

Costing about $10m, it is shot in both Hindi and English, and aimed at the international box office.

The Rising is based on an 1857 uprising by Indian soldiers.

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

The film is a combination of recorded facts, folklore and the writer's imagination
Aamir Khan

This is the first major film dealing with the mutiny - though the subject was reflected in the 1935 US feature Clive of India, on the life of Robert Clive, the 18th century British soldier and politician.

In India the mutiny is often described as the first war of independence.

The Rising is directed by Indian filmmaker Ketan Mehta and also stars Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee.

It is the first Aamir Khan release in four years, of which he spent two years working on this period epic.

The film has been scripted by writer Farrukh Dhondy, a former commissioning editor at Channel 4, and set to music by top Indian composer AR Rahman.

With eight song and dance numbers The Rising is just under 150 minutes long - not very long by Bollywood standards where over three-hour-long song and dance extravaganzas are routine.

Epic tale

The film was shot on sets in the western Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay) and a tiny Tajikistan village near the Afghanistan border where the final scenes were completed.

A scene from The Rising
Toby Stephens plays a key role in The Rising

Khan, sporting a handlebar moustache and long hair, plays Mangal Pandey who, according to Indian popular history and legend, triggered the first Indian rebellion against the British.

The British ruled India for 200 years until the country's independence in 1947.

The film's publicity describes The Rising 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".

Mangal Pandey was eventually executed for his role in the uprising.

Rani Mukherjee in The Rising
Top Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee plays a prostitute
However, a leading Indian historian has expressed reservations about Mangal Pandey's role in the 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," says Rudrangshu Mukherjee.

"There is no record about where he came from. Who were his parents? Was he married? When was he recruited and by whom?

"Answers to all these questions are unknown and speculative."

Aamir Khan calls it a realistic film which brings to alive a true story.

"It has a lot of resonance in today's world too," he told the BBC during the shooting.

Still from The Rising
The film is big on spectacle
"The film is a combination of recorded facts, folklore and the writer's imagination. All the major events shown in the film are from recorded fact," Khan writes in a blog on the film.

"Some characters are fictional, and Mangal's personal life is fictional. He stands for rebellion against foreign oppression, and gave up his life to fulfil his dream."

Khan says he read up letters, books and memoirs about the period before beginning work on The Rising.

'Lot of research'

Director Ketan Mehta told the BBC that the film took long to complete because of a "lot of research that went into the production".

"We completed the shooting in six months. But the production and post-production work took very long."

Shooting began in Mumbai in November 2003 when the Prince of Wales, visiting India at that time, snapped the clapperboard on the sets.

Khan, 40, is no stranger to period epics - his last film which he starred and produced Lagaan (Land Tax), a near four-hour-long colonial extravaganza built around a rousing cricket match was a huge hit and India's third-ever Oscar nomination.

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