Bharat Ek Khoj


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1857 Part-2
(Episode 43)

Nehru opines that the 1857 Revolt that completed 100 years of British presence in India since Plassey, was essentially a feudal rising, though undoubtedly there wrre nationalistic elements in it. Those who had joined the Revolt were, as a rule, the disinherited and those deprived of their power and privileges, or those who feared that some such fate awaited them.

In the ensuing drama, the loyalty of the rank and file is sought to be strengthened in the name of continued Mughal rule, and the belief that the British rule in India being limited to only 100 years is cited aloud. Mughal Firman is proclaimed from Red Fort ramparts, laying down a new hierarchy and setting up an administration. While the patriotic music announced father marches to Kanpur and Oudh, the British muster troops on the Ridge, north of Delhi, and attempt to explain away their 'mistakes' in Lucknow and elsewhere. After the city falls to a British assault and, after another orgy of looking and indiscriminate massacre, the emperor is exiled to Rangoon.

The rebellion is now seen in the vast-Gangetic plain where Oudh become the main arena of a genuine populist uprising rooted in rutal support. In Lucknow, although the British Collector assiduously cultivates Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the last Peshwa, with promises of protection by General Wheeler, the mutineers prevail upon him to replace the Mughal as their figurehead and provide leadership. Assuming the defunct Peshwa-ship, Nana Sahib takes the surrender of the 400 British in Kanpur. There are, however, two massacres of hapless British captives and, in the face of the avenging British forces now approaching from Allahbad, Nana Sahib and his able Marathi commander Tantia Topi escape to Nepal, never to be heard of again. Even the recapture of Kanpur by the British, the rebel-held Lucknow sees a defiant stand developing into a remarkable siege.

The final scenes of defiance occur in the south of Yamuna in the Bundelkhand territory of Jhansi. Once the local British community has taken refuge in the small fort and gets massacred while being evacuated, the Queen, who had parted with funds and guns to the mutineers marching off to Agra and Delhi, raises troop and leads them herself, most courageously, to repulse to British assault, but dies fighting heroically as the best and the bravest of the rebel leaders. The battle is seen in graphic details with many gory hangings of the rebel prisoners from the surrounding trees.

Nehru noted that, after the Revolt was violent crushed the royal proclamation of 1858 transferred all right enjoyed by the East India Company to the British Crown and Queen Victoria become the Queen of India. In the drama, the musicians bemoan the end of the dream to make the land free of foreign occupants by a united Hindu-Muslim regime. Nehru further observes that by 1877, the 'Empress of India' was also decorated 'Kaiser-i-Hind'.