History of the World According to the Movies: Part 14- India


Perhaps no movie defines the history of India in the Western mind than Gandhi. Perhaps he may be portrayed too much of a saint than he really was. Perhaps this movie isn’t 100% accurate. However, there are very few movies about Indian history that aren’t based on some literature written by Kipling so this one fits. Also, this features Ben Kingsley who’s actually part Indian himself (but you wouldn’t know it.)

India is perhaps one of the oldest known places of civilization as well as home to a variety of cultures, religions, languages, and peoples. From the old planned cities of Harappa and Mojengo Daro to Mahatma Gandhi and the Nehrus, Indian history has perhaps spanned for thousands of years, with it’s state base kingdoms to it’s vassalage under empires like the Magdhas, the Mauryas, Alexander the Great, the Guptas, the Mughals, and the British. There are also plenty of other empires India was under that Wikipedia lists which I haven’t heard of. Yeah, Indian history is complicated. Still, we know India is known for yoga, Hinduism, the notion of sacred cows, saris, modern Arabic numerals, yogurt, curry, and Buddhism. There’s a lot of ugly stuff associated with India but let’s not go there. And of course, plenty of Indian animals like elephants, tigers, and monkey as any other creature featured in a Rudyard Kipling story (sure he may be some British Imperialist, but whenever a Hollywood movie is set in India, it’s usually based on one of his stories.) Still, this doesn’t mean that movies about Indian history are being made, for they certainly are since they have a big film industry known as Bollywood (which actually cranks out more movies than Hollywood). Naturally, these movies are best known by westerners for their singing and dancing routines as well as their epic love stories. Of course, many of these errors I list do come from some better known Bollywood movies as well since they tend to have the old Hollywood notion of not letting facts ruin a good story, especially if it’s a romance containing music and dancing (just like Disney, well, not really).

Mauryan Empire:

Ashoka killed his half-brother Susima in a vicious rage. (It’s said he tricked him into stepping on hot coals. Also, he probably knew his half-brother was going to kill him anyway since Susima was the designated heir to the Maurya throne. Ashoka was his main competition. Killing relatives was the norm in many ancient civilizations.)

The vengeful and violent Ashoka converted to Buddhism and became the stable and peaceful Mauryan Emperor in his later reign out of his love for the warrior princess Karuwaki after finding her alive during the Kalinga War. (It’s said it had more to do with his profound sorrow for being responsible for having to slaughter hundreds while conquering the region. It may have had nothing to do with a love for a princess there, but simply out of being horrified over his actions. Also, it’s said Karuwaki was probably a fisherman’s daughter turned mendicant Buddhist convert before she married Ashoka {according to one historian} though she was from Kalinga but she wasn’t the love of his life nor was a factor in his conversion to Buddhism {that may go to his first and most beloved wife Devi who allegedly left him before Kalinga for a Buddhist convent}. )

Devi was a rebound woman for Asoka who he married while getting over his ex Karuwaki. (She was his first and favorite wife as well as perhaps the intellectual inspiration for his conversion to Buddhism.)

Ashoka was kicked out of the Mauryan palace for being too violent and wandered through India disguised as a common soldier. (This never happened. Seemed his dad used his ferociousness to his advantage like suppressing riots.)

Mughal Empire:

Jodhaa was a Rajput princess who was married to the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great and called Jodha Bai. (Akbar’s commissioned biography doesn’t list this, though he had a Rajput princess as his chief wife but her name was Heer Kunwari best known as Jahangir’s mother. Then again, Jodha might just have been a nickname. Also, some Rajput groups claim she was his daughter-in-law as well as Jahangir’s wife {and mother of Shah Jahan}. Historians note that Akbar’s wife was never referred to as Jodha Bai until the 18th or 19th century.)

Jodhaa was Akbar’s favorite wife. (His chief wife was his cousin Ruqaiya Sultan Begum who he married when he was fifteen.)

Akbar the Great was a great lover as well as only had one wife. (Like his predecessors and ancestors, he had a great lust for women. One of his many intentions of his wars of belligerence against several rulers was to gain their sister, daughters, and women. He’d even go after his Amirs’ wives {ordering these guys to divorce and send them to him}. He also had a harem of 34 wives {or mutah nikah meaning wives with no legitimacy or ceremony} and 300 concubines from different races and religions. So he was probably a guy women would want to avoid, not that his women had any choice. Still, he probably made Hugh Hefner look like a choir boy.)

Though Prince Salim was a heavy consumer of opium and alcohol from childhood, he was also a mischievous boy as well as a gentle and romantic hero. (He consumed a lot booze and opium from age 18, but he was a brutal drunk who would often beat servants {he beat one to death as well as castrated another}. Oh, and it’s said he had a writer flayed alive while he watched.)

Prince Salim lead a rebellion against his father Akbar the Great, tried to replace him as emperor, and had his dad’s friend Abu al-Fazl murdered in 1602 all because he wanted to marry a court dancer. (Yes, he did all that, but not because he wanted to marry a girl his dad didn’t like. As a side note, he’d later succeeded his father as Jahangir and his son would build the Taj Mahal.)

Anarkali was Akbar the Great’s court dancer and Prince Salim’s girlfriend. (She’s said to exist and may have been a dancer. Yet, she could’ve been a painter, courtesan, or one of Akbar’s wives making her Salim’s stepmother. She may possibly be the mother of Prince Daniyal. Whether the two were intimate in a relationship is based on legend, and therefore, has no basis in historical fact.)

Imperialism and The Raj:

Mangal Pandey’s prime motivation for attacking British officers in 1857 was because the new cartridges were cased in animal fat which violated religious taboos of Hindu and Muslim soldiers alike. (It also had to do with India being annexed by the British Empire and the general discontent of the sepoys. Let’s just say it was an accumulation of factors over time including one in Pandey’s regiment pertaining to a British officer attempting to convert the sepoys to Christianity.)

Mangal Pandey fought in the Anglo-Afghan War in 1853. (He joined up in 1849 as well as was part of the 34th Bengal Infantry which didn’t see action in Afghanistan and the Anglo-Afghan War ended in 1842.)

Mangal Pandey fell in love with a prostitute forced to work at a whites-only brothel. (This may not have happened though there’s a legend that Pandey had an affair with a married woman whom he rescued from committing suicide in the Ganges.)

The British East India Company was a free market. (It was a monopoly and Adam Smith was one of its staunchest critics.)

British East India Company soldiers murdered and enslaved Indian civilians in 1857. (Slavery was already banned in the British Empire by this point, for over 20 years.)

British East India Company soldiers would massacre Indian villages if they refused to grow opium. (The British East India Company was the biggest drug dealer of all time but no historical record says they did this.)

British East India Company officers issued animal fat cased cartridges to the sepoys and threatened them with a cannon unless they agreed to use them. (One historian says that they withdrew the cartridges in light of the concerns and didn’t issue them to a single sepoy. Pandey’s colonel {Colonel Mitchell from The Rising} did order artillery to surround the sepoys but only after they had looted the arsenal, which was at night not day. Yet, Mitchell wasn’t in charge of his regiment unlike in the Mangal Pandey biopic.)

Mangal Pandey’s premature mutiny was prompted by the arrival of the ships from the Rangoon regiment. (It was actually brought on by the arrival of just 50 soldiers from Calcutta when he was under the influence of opium and bhang. And unlike The Rising, it wasn’t difficult to find anyone who wanted to hang him afterwards.)


Mohandas K. Gandhi was as much a saint in public as he was in private. (Gandhi was also difficult and demanding, a tyrannical and emotionally abusive father {he even disowned one of his sons}, obsessed with the workings of everyone’s bowels, slept naked alongside his female disciples, and subject to long bouts of depressing that he wouldn’t speak to anyone, which led to his closest associates to fight amongst themselves. He denied his wife medicine while she was dying from pneumonia because he didn’t believe in germs, thought Hitler could be redeemed, and believed rape victims weren’t “pure enough.” Not to mention, he viewed himself personally responsible for the Hindu and Muslim chaos that accompanied Independence. Also, he was killed by a Hindu extremist.)

Mohandas K. Gandhi and his wife Kasturbai had a loving relationship. (Gandhi’s autobiography tells a different story, especially pertaining to their early years.)

Mohammed Jinnah was a languid and malevolent fop. (Yet, like Gandhi he was British trained lawyer, yet he wasn’t a devout Muslim since he drank, had a non-Muslim wife, wore Savile Row suits, as well as spoke Urdu only with difficulty. However, he was all for Hindu-Islamic alliance for Indian independence and only called to form a separate nation of Pakistan in 1940. However, he thought Gandhi’s influence on the council was too dominating. Not to mention, the Congress Party committed many wartime blunders during the independence movement such as the precipitous withdrawal from the interim provincial governments {that might have led to a united Indian independence} and its demand that the British largely “Quit India” while the Japanese were closing on eastern India’s borders. Gandhi enthusiastically supported both of these which put him and the Congress Party’s leaders in prison. This left Muslim League Leader Jinnah and his fellow Muslims to whip up support for carving Pakistan.)

“Qaumi Tarana” was the original national anthem of Pakistan. (It was a different song {written by a Hindu only days prior to the independence ceremony} which only lasted for 18 months.)

Mohandas K. Gandhi and his associates were arrested and beaten by police for burning passes protesting the Pass Law in South Africa. (He was arrested but not beaten by police for doing this.)

The Indian flag was hoisted in broad daylight during the independence ceremony. (It was hoisted at midnight.)

Colonialism and imperialism were largely to blame for the Hindu and Islam hostilities following independence. (Gandhi claims this. However, it may go deeper than that. There’s considerable debate on this. However, British intrusion probably didn’t help matters.)

Mohandas K. Gandhi liberated India. (Most historians agree India’s independence was inevitable. Also, he was just one of several independence leaders and his civil disobedience was only a small part in the movement.)

Gandhi was above the social prejudices of his time and place. (He was more concerned with Indian welfare in South Africa than with the situation with the Africans, which he ignored. Also, sometimes could be paternalistic or even sexist.)

The country of Bangladesh was created in 1971 after a thirteen battle with India. (It was actually during an 8 month struggle between East Pakistan {Bangladesh} and West Pakistan {Pakistan} which cost 3 million Bangladeshi lives. India was just receiving collateral damage.)

Jinnah told Gandhi and Nehru to go to hell. (He never did that and always treated them with courtesy and respect. Also, he mourned Gandhi’s loss.)

India was independent in 1945. (It won it’s independence in 1947.)

Pakistan existed in the 1930s. (It wasn’t formed until the Partition of India in 1947.)


Kali worship was like Satanism. (Sure she was the Goddess of destruction, but she’s not Hinduism’s Satan since her realm is time and natural change as well as righteous destruction. She never really smiled at warfare, torture, and human sacrifice. Yet, Shiva was like God in a way since he’s considered a god of creation and rebirth but Hindus have a lot of them.)

In Nair tradition, caste was and family identity was inherited from the paternal line as far as the region of Kerala was concerned. (Both of these were inherited through the maternal line in the Indian region of Kerala. In these matrilineal societies with male dominance, ruler succession would be passed from the male ruler to his brother and eventually his sisters’ sons.)

Asian Subcontinent Indians didn’t have guns until the arrival of Europeans. (Some kingdoms did since the 13th century, thanks to the Chinese and Arab traders.)

Yogis and Buddhist monks were always wise and holy men. (Yeah, well, even eastern religious leaders have their problems.)

Siddartha Gautama was either Indian or Asian looking. (His aristocratic family was of Indo-Iranian ethnicity possibly from Central Eurasia and it didn’t mixed with the lower castes so the Buddha would’ve looked like them. He more likely had wavy black or dark brown hair, light reddish skin, and a long pointed nose. An artistic rendering of him with these features makes him look surprisingly European but good luck finding him looking like that in movies, especially made in Asia.)

Indians ate monkey brains. (No, and gross.)

Subcontinental Asian Indians were dark skinned. (There are also plenty of light skin Indians as well.)

India has been a monocultural society. (It hasn’t been. Look what I said in my introduction.)

Hindu temples were all filled with thousands year old working machinery and lots of booby traps. (Of course, only as far as Indiana Jones is concerned. I highly doubt this.)

Indians were kind and obedient servants. (Really? Have you heard of the Independence Movement or the Sepoy Rebellion? Perhaps this is just a British imperialistic myth.)