Sir Roger of Bengal

Posted in Bengal, Bollywood, Dhallywood, Drama, history, movies, people, South Asia, TV by jrahman on June 23, 2012

Sir Roger Dowler of Bengal was a terrible, terrible guy who used to spend all his time boozing and doing wicked, wicked things with women, all the while his countrymen were impoverished by rapacious men of avarice who loafed around in the capital.  What?  Never heard of Sir Roger?  Sure you have, except you know him by his real name — Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent nawab of Bengal.

John Company’s men anglicised Siraj’s name.  They also wrote about him being a very bad ruler, from whose misgovernance the people of Bengal had to be delivered by Clive and his men.  And that historiography essentially continued with the orientalists of the 19th century all the way to 20th century Indian historians like Jadunath Sarkar and Ramesh Chandra Majumdar.

Of course, that history is not what any school child in either Bengal learns.  What we learn is this:

Okay, maybe not exactly that.  Maybe we don’t learn that the Nawab of Bengal personally rode around the countryside killing English villains.  But much of the rest of the movie — that Siraj was undone by a palace coup involving his generals, bankers, relatives, and of course, the perfidious Clive and his mates — is the accepted history in Bangladesh (and elsewhere in South Asia).

And both histories have clear political purposes.  The Sir Roger version was used to justify British imperialism.  And Anwar Hossain as Bangla’r Nawab was a nationalist icon.

Zhou En Lai is meant to have commented that it was too soon to tell what the French revolution meant.  Well, on the 255th anniversary of the Battle of Plassey, what do you think about Siraj?

Never mind.

Watch these, and tell me, why can’t we Desis can’t make historical epics?


Halla Bol!


9 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. উদয়ন said, on June 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I’ve never really understood why a Persian (ie, really Urdu, ie really sort of something else) speaking hereditary puppet is supposed to be a symbol for freedom for all the people of Bengal, let alone the subcontinent.

    Plassey today has no real memorial. A bunch of empty fields, and nearby – a filthy underdeveloped and overflowing town. Feels good to have Nazrul’s fiery words about “Polashir prantor” come to mind when gazing at the landscape, but I know the reality of then and now is something else. I just don’t know exactly what.

    • jrahman said, on June 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Symbols are funny things. Here is another one — in the early 1920s, the hereditary Turkish despot became a symbol of Indian Muslims’ anti-imperialism, never mind that the Turkish people had shown no love for the said despot. And the guy whose political career seemed to come at a premature end for pointing out the oddity of the Khilafat movement, and the dangers it posed to the liberal cause among the Indian Muslims, ended up becoming Pakistan’s founder a quarter century later.

      Siraj became a symbol of some sort of pan-Bengali identity in the late 1930s, when the Raj was ending and the real political question was about the post-independence division of power. The choice of symbol perhaps signifies that there was, after all, not that much of a basis for the kind of pan-Bengali identity being espoused.

      Yes, it’s sad to see Plassey today (or it was the case 12 years ago when I saw it).

    • Diganta said, on June 26, 2012 at 2:01 am

      On symbols – Mangal Pandey is probably the worst example :).

      • jrahman said, on June 26, 2012 at 2:56 am

        And it was a very ordinary movie too, which was my subsidiary point — we suck at making historical epics.

      • Diganta said, on June 26, 2012 at 3:09 am

        “Ordinary” is probably a politically correct word, something worst can also be attributed. Yeah I agree that we are not that good at historical epics, but historical fiction like Lagaan was good.

      • jrahman said, on June 28, 2012 at 11:05 am

        Lagaan was excellent. But it’s very much an exception methinks.

  2. Rumi said, on June 28, 2012 at 8:07 am

    There was a good piece in Prothom Alo about how Sirajul was deliberately demonized in British accounts. The piece showed, account by account how all the devilish characteristics attributed to Sirajul are wrong.

    • jrahman said, on June 28, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Link please.

  3. Rumi said, on June 30, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Prothom alo is very messy these days. They call it dynamic website. Hence cannot trace it now.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: