4 comments on “It’s Lakshmibai Mania!

  1. Very interesting post, Richard. I’d seen this yesterday, but was so rushed that – seeing the length of it – decided I would put off the reading of it to today.

    It’s about time I got around to seeing the 1953 film about Laxmibai. That’s been on my watchlist for a long time, and your review of it certainly encourages me to watch it. Manikarnika was, very briefly, on my watchlist, but after the first reviews of it started coming in, I decided this wasn’t a film I wanted to watch. It sounded too jingoistic and loud – which, not surprisingly, Kangana Ranaut is being in real life too, these days. :-D

    I’ve never read the Michelle Moran novel (I’m a little wary of most Westerners who write historical novels set in India), but I had to study a Hindi novel about Laxmibai when I was in Grade 12. Interesting, and (from what I recall of it, considering we studied modern Indian history the same year) fairly accurate from a historical point of view.

  2. Thanks again, Madhu. I hope you get to watch the 1953 film soon. You can just view it on Tom’s channel if you don’t mind watching it on YouTube (and you’re OK watching a truncated version in order to get far better visual quality :) ).

    Regarding Kangana Ranaut… In a previous draft of this post, I wrote some words about the jingoistic quality of the film and I tried to connect it to what I had seen about her outside of the film. (I don’t know if you saw it, but Reeba sent me some interesting links about that on Facebook.) But I thought that was bringing the review off on a tangent that sort of interrupted the flow. :) I was taken aback by how many times I had to read the phrase “For my country!” in the subtitles. But someone else wrote the dialogue, not Kangana. I saw her listed as one of three directors, so while she bears some responsibility, maybe she gets more of the blame than is fair because she is the recognized star? I am no expert on acting, but I thought she did very well with that, at least.

    Is Kangana trying to be the next Priyanka Chopra? LOL There’s a campaign going to kick Piryanka out of her UN roll because she publicly cheered on the armed forces of India. And I understand that she’s been picking public verbal fights with fans and other people too. (Also learned that with some help from Reeba.)

    I don’t know if it’s fair to be wary of most Westerners who write historical novels in India. But maybe we could assume they are not concentrated particularly on India if they skip around to different places as Michelle Moran does. Though she has lived in India for a short time and she does have an Indian husband, so she is way ahead of me in those ways (if I ever write a whole book set in India). The closest I could claim is a three-year residence during the past decade near the heart of the Indian section of Jackson Heights in Queens, NY and a Pakistani girlfriend who lasted half a year 22 years ago. :) Though I also can claim so much good information and perspective on India from the people I’ve met online during more than a dozen years of doing this blog!

  3. I think I will probably end up watching the un-truncated version rather than the truncated one; I’ve watched some movies in really awful prints, just because I wanted to see the film in its entirety, so I don’t really mind poor quality if it is compensated for, elsewhere.

    I agree Kangana is a good actress. Actually, Anu and I were talking about her last month when Anu visited Noida and spent a few hours with me. About how Kangana is good at her work, but her attitude sucks – she’s suddenly emerged as this rabid right-wing Hindutva supporter who can’t seem to have anything to do except pick fights with people who don’t agree with her. I guess her politics colours my opinion of her. ;-)

    I’m wary of Westerners writing historical novels set in India because of the few I’ve read till now, most get details horribly and embarrassingly wrong. For instance, Barbara Cleverly wrote the Jack Sandilands series, about a Scotland Yard detective who solves crimes in Raj-era India. Though the mysteries themselves are pretty solid and the detective work is good, there are some absolutely terrible faux pas when it comes to detail. I’d hasten to add that that is often also true of Indians writing historical fiction set in India. The problem seems to be that people don’t do enough research – and India being as complex as it is, many Westerners with only a fleeting (and general) idea of Indian society and culture can get things very wrong indeed. I’ve seen big names like Jeffrey Archer, MM Kaye, and even Kiran Nagarkar slip up when it comes to research.

    I guess my obsession with historical research skews my perceptions of these writers. :-)

    That said, some of the best non-fiction on historical India that I’ve read is by Western writers like Ebba Koch, Bamber Gascoigne, Anne Marie Schimmel, and Roy Moxham.

  4. I’ve had to try hard not to let the politics of a few Indian film stars color my opinion of them – and I mean the more classic stars, too. It’s a good thing that I’m not a big fan of Hema Malini or Dharmendra anyway (though both have had very good moments), because they have been such active campaigners for the BJP – and Hema has also been a fairly big politician for the party too, right? It’s more troubling that Vyajyanthimala joined the BJP, but as I’ve said before, it appears from interviews that I saw that she does not really have a big attachment to the party’s ideology but, rather, switched to the BJP from Congress at some point because the BJP gave her more attention. (I suppose that it could be a challenge not to let her notorious ego color my opinion of her, but that is not nearly as much of a challenge as trying not to let an actor or dancer’s rabid right-wing politics color my opinion.) I understand that Jamuna joined the BJP, too. What is it with all these actors? Though I was told by someone that all these classic actors who joined the BJP are “very moderate” members, relatively speaking. Still, that’s not a very good excuse, is it?

    Regarding Westerners writing historical fiction set in India, I understand your concerns. I haven’t read any of the ones you’ve mentioned. :) For a long time, I went off reading fiction. And when I read a lot of fiction a couple of decades ago, I was much more likely to read science fiction. Historical accuracy about specific places counts a little less when you’re writing about people in the future who live in outer space! :)

    What about nonfiction writers who turn to historical fiction? That’s another interesting area…

    I was very impressed by The Dancing Girls of Lahore by the UK-based Scottish sociologist Louise Brown. This book was praised as a study that reads like a novel, and in more recent years, she actually became a novelist. I rushed to get two of her novels, Eden Gardens and The Himalayan Summer. Eden Gardens centers on impoverished British women and prostitutes living in Calcutta in the 1940s – certainly an unusual subject! It’s far from a perfect novel, but I liked it. The Himalayan Summer takes place in Bengal and Nepal in the 1930s. It’s more smoothly written, but I thought it came a little bit too close to the formula for a romance novel – at least an old-fashioned kind, not the bad, smutty kinds. :) But the settings combined with time periods were certainly interesting to me, since I’ve watched a bunch of 1940s Hindi and Bengali films. :)

    I must admit, I am not familiar with any of those Western writers of nonfiction on historical India. I will look into those names. I know quite a bit about William Dalrymple now, but we’ve already talked about little about him, Madhu. ;)

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