The Shackles of History

Few good historical films come out of India. Movie buffs remember Satyajit Ray's The Chess Players, a classic in which the British seize the Indian kingdom of Avadh, and Lagaan, a crowd-pleaser nominated for an Oscar in 2002, in which the Indians thrash the British at cricket. But these are the exceptions. Most Bollywood films focus predictably on ishq—love—and little else. The travails of The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, India's most ambitious historical movie in years, show why.

Two plaintiffs claiming to be descendants of a brother of Pandey, the film's central character and a hero...

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