8 comments on “Jhansi Ki Rani (1953)

  1. I’m not sure whether I’ve heard of this film or am mixing it up with another – but it sounds (looks?) like something I must watch. As you probably know, the Rani of Jhansi is a big deal in India (incidentally, one of my favourite Hindi poems – and one which has been a standard inclusion in school text books since my father’s schooldays – is about her). She does appear as a character in Laal Qila, if I remember correctly, but that film was only a passing nod at historicity.

    This one I’ve got to see. Thanks for telling us about it, Richard.

  2. If I can stomach it, I do think it would be interesting to compare some of the international productions with Indian subjects (1940’s Jungle Book, Renoir’s The River, and the above film) made during this period, as I found myself cringing at the “outsider-ish” narrative in the first two. . . however well-intentioned. (It could just be an allergy to Orientalism, but it’s more likely that English in an Indian setting is jarring after so many Indian language films. . .) I wonder if this film will feel different, considering that has an Indian director and actors at the helm.
    Anyhow, I shall give this one a try.

  3. You’re welcome, Madhu. And now that you mentioned Lal Quila, I will look into that one more. (There is not much information available – but it looks worthwhile from listings of the cast and music.)

  4. Miranda, I haven’t seen the 1940 Jungle Book, and I’ve only seen some scenes from Renior’s The River… But, yes, some of these films made outside of India that are supposed to be about India are atrocious in some ways. But that’s because of what seems to be either a lack of knowledge in Indian culture, dance, etc., or else a lack of caring about it. For instance, if you have not seen Fritz Lang’s Indian Tomb, that’s probably one to avoid. LOL (Madhu knows all about that one. :) ) Though I can’t say I actually sat through the whole film, but anyway…

    I have never been to India (and I don’t know if you have, either), but after my involvement in Indian films, especially during the past 7 years (not to mention my acquaintance with people who either grew up with them and/or people who know them as well as I do), I can’t imagine not being jarred by the artificiality of some of these old non-Indian films “about” India. I guess it had something to do with lack of constant interrelationship between the cultures and lack of media that would keep different nations aware of one another… I can’t help feeling, though, that the problem could not have been total ignorance on the part of the producers, directors, etc. – who traveled enough and were worldly enough – but with a social atmosphere in which such authenticity didn’t matter. (Most of the audience wouldn’t know the difference, and maybe most of the audience wouldn’t care, either?)

    It’s ironic, since the same contemporary globalization that has enabled some of us to become very aware of the old Indian cinema that we love has also contributed to the deterioration of much current-day Indian cinema (in my opinion, at least from what I have seen). I’ve seen Indian critics blame bad quality on “westernization,” but some of us western people long for the older Indian cinema that drew us to “Bollywood” in the first place, because it provided aesthetic pleasures that couldn’t be found in western films.

    But back to the old films… I think the co-productions would naturally avoid the problems of the films produced entirely outside of India cinema… Journey Beyond Three Seas, aka Pardesi (1957), which was a co-production with Soviet filmmakers and produced in both Russian and English, is excellent. But, then, the Russians were big fans of Indian cinema, and big fans of Padmini, who was in that one. (And that is why it wasn’t a flop in Russia, either.) I guess that people perceived Jhansi Ki Rani to be a little more awkward because of its international co-production (and, obviously, not enough American people could take to it), but I saw no problems in terms of any awkward or offbeat portrayal of India.

    When it comes to old Indian films done in English, the only danger is that sometimes the dialogue sounds stilted or melodramatic, etc. Sometimes in Jhansi Ki Rani, it did seem a little off in that way, but it was minor. When I tried to watch the English-language version of Raj Nartaki (1941) (aka The Court Dancer), the dialogue and the acting were much harder to take… But that was the first Indian-produced film to be made English. (And it’s still worth watching for the visual qualities and the dancing, which is beautiful.)

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy Jhansi Ki Rani

  5. Let me warn you off Laal Qila, Richard. I bought the VCD for my sister, since she’s a historian whose field of interest is Delhi in the late 19th century (and she likes old cinema, importantly!). I watched it before I gifted it to her, and then was wishing I’d bought her something better. This one was really pretty bad, badly scripted and not really very historical. On the plus side, though, it has some beautiful music, including Rafi’s rendition of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poem, Lagta nahin hai dil mere ujde dayaar mein.

  6. You mentioned the lack of songs. For the 96 minute long US release the songs (and a whole lot more) were all removed. The much longer complete film (available only in an atrocious Indian release) has the songs intact. It’s also available on YouTube, as are the songs separately.

  7. That was an extremely thought-inducing reply, Richard :) Thank you for taking the time to leave me with some of your clarifying ideas! I think you hit something (at least to my instincts) when you linked “artifice” to the time and place–an intellectual environment that didn’t require authenticity. I suppose the standard for authenticity was different, too. Even now, tho I might cringe at these foreign/older attempts to depict India, they’re not that much worse than the average Discovery Channel documentary airing now [true story, I started watching something about the Thar Desert the other day, and it was beautifully shot but rife with a nauseating exoticism]. On the one hand, I get it. Obviously, if I didn’t find the Indian “aesthetic” uniquely appealing (as you said) I wouldn’t be so obsessed with the pop culture. And I’m sure my obsession doesn’t come off so great all the time. For an outsider, it’s very hard to balance healthy interest with healthy commentary, so maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. But it’s just a visceral reaction, and I can’t necessarily help it. You’re also totally right about taking what you can from these sorts of productions (like the dancing) and just leaving the rest. I’ve been planning to give that Russian/Indian co-production a try for a while now, and I’ll try to keep the “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” idea in mind.

  8. I meant to write this response earlier, but, Madhu, thank you for warning me off Lal Quila!

    Tom, thanks for that info. It’s a shame that they cut the songs out. Did they think that the songs would make the film less marketable to American audiences? From what we’ve read, it doesn’t seem to have made a difference. Maybe it would even have helped! And, yes, the Indian version as posted on YouTube is difficult to watch (I have looked at a few of those songs now).

    Miranda, thank you for the good words about my long comment above. This time I’ll be brief. :) I do understand how you feel about these things. Yes, even now, some of the fake exoticism put in videos related to India (in order to market them to us westerners) is hard to take.

    Regarding Perdesi/Journey Beyond Three Seas, well, that is a different sort of thing altogether, and I hope you do get a chance to watch it.

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