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