Being a nephew of movie makers, I have always drawn inspiration, joy and sometimes use watching movies as a family bonding activity as well. Indian movies in particular have been a big thing in our family and continues to be. Not a month goes by without my family watching at least a couple of movies. If nothing, we will all dance to the songs and videos of Bollywood songs. It certainly has been a window to the traditions, cultures, landscape and colors of India to my kids. In their own way, Pooja and Varoon have been living characters in different movies. Hindi they might not have picked to make a full conversation, but songs, they sure know….most of them full. The Kishore Kumar DNA in me I believe has made its way to Varoon. Lo kallo baat…nikle the Lagaan dekhne…ghar ke baat me atak gaye….chal babua picture dikhate hain…
Many movies have stirred my passion in different subjects. Lagaan is one such. Being very close to the sport during my school and college days- albeit no great shakes in any particular field except maybe fielding 😉 unlike my twin who practically could destroy the opposition with his seam bowling and blitzkrieg batting.
Why blog about Lagaan – my dear friend Shyloo-didi reminded me of Lagaan as a good movie to write about for inspiration. That seeded a new category under movies – the Bollywood Classics. Lagaan is my first attempt in this direction. I know, I will miss a lot, maybe even not capture some of the aspects. My effort here is to try and get a snapshot of the story, the movie, the actors, the directors, the music – as much as I can. Tho ho jaye?
Champaner. A small village in Central India.
Like thousands of villages across the country, the farmers of Champaner depend on agriculture as the main source of livelihood. Hard working and fun loving, they have small dreams – rain for the crops and food for the families.
On the outskirts of the village stands a British cantonment, commanded by Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne), an arrogant and capricious man.
Last year, there was rain, but very little. And this year, two months of the monsoon season have gone by… but there are no rains yet. All eyes are skywards as the villagers wait tensely for the life-giving drops from the heavens. They know that if the monsoon Gods evade them this year, their children will starve.
And then comes a bolt from the blue. The Raja’s (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) emissaries thunder through the province announcing double tax – ‘dugna lagaan’.
A battle begins, which is fought without bloodshed. It is fought by a group of unlikely heroes led by Bhuvan (Aamir Khan). Helped by Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), the beautiful English girl, and Gauri (Gracy Singh), the young and perky village girl.
Faith and courage come face to face with arrogance and ruthlessness.
It requires grit and determination to attempt a film of this magnitude. It requires guts to defy the norms and parameters of commercial cinema and devote the entire film to a cricket match. It also requires valour and money in abundance to recreate an era which none from the present generation have witnessed (the film is set in the year 1893).
The film exposes the games the Britishers played with the Indians when they set foot on Indian soil. To cite, two instances, when Captain Russell forces the Raja, a vegetarian, to eat meat or when Russell challenges Bhuvan for a game of cricket, keep the viewer awestruck.
Even the post-challenge sequences that show Aamir gradually making his team of eleven, have been handled proficiently. But the highlight of the film is, without doubt, the cricket match, which dominates the second half completely.
The filming of the cricket match is the most exhilarating part of the film, which keeps the viewer on tenterhooks right till the end. The highs and lows of the villagers and the emotions attached to the game are so true to life, which is why the cinegoer becomes a part of the crowd watching the game on screen.
But the film has its share of flaws as well.
* One, those who expect the film to be a war waged by Indians against the British will be disappointed to see a film that is devoted completely to a cricket match. This ‘battle’ is fought with a bat in the hand, not swords or guns.
* Two, the length of the film – 3.40 hours – tries the patience of the viewer. The pace drops at regular intervals in both the halves and trimming the film is a must to make the goings-on speedy. The song in the climax should be deleted since it hinders the storytelling at that stage of the film.
* Three, the language used by the villagers is Avadhi, which will restrict its prospects to the North belt (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar) mainly. Even the usage of English by the Britishers will be difficult to comprehend for the viewer based in small towns and villages of India.
The film is embellished with great cinematography (Anil Mehta), authentic sets (Nitin Desai), brilliant dialogues (K.P. Saxena), soulful music (A.R. Rahman) and fantastic performances.
As a director, Ashutosh Gowariker has given the film a grand look, captured intricate details minutely and handled the theme beautifully, but as one of the writers of the film, he could have curbed the length of the film, for what could have been conveyed in 3 hours has been stretched unreasonably.
Rahman’s music is inspiring and gels well with the mood of the film. At least three numbers from the film – ‘Ghanan Ghanan’, ‘Radha Kaise Na Jale’ and ‘Maine Pyar Tujhi Se Hain Kiya’ – have a mesmerising effect on the viewer and the placement of the songs is also perfect. Even the background score has the unmistakable stamp of the genius – Rahman.
K.P. Saxena’s dialogues elevate the sequences to a great extent. At places, the impact is clapworthy. Cinematography is awesome and can easily be compared with the best of international cinema.
Now to the performances! The film clearly belongs to Aamir Khan, who enacts his part marvellously. He gets ample scope to display histrionics when the cricket match begins and must say, the actor is in top form. This is without doubt his best work to date.
New-find Gracy Singh springs a surprise. Not only is she an amazing performer, but also a first-rate dancer. Her dance in the ‘Radha Kaise Na Jale’ is among the high points of the film.
Paul Blackthorne is efficient and manages to make a strong impact. Rachel Shelley is equally impressive. Amongst the character artistes, Suhasini Mulay (Aamir’s mother), Akhilendra Mishra and Yashpal Sharma (who plays ‘Lakha’, the sole negative character amongst villagers) stand out with polished performances.
Amitabh Bachchan’s commentary, interspersed throughout the film, is one of the assets.
On the whole, LAGAAN is an apt example of good cinema – different plot, popular music, breath-taking climax and excellent performances. One of the keenly anticipated films of the times, the film has taken a fabulous start everywhere. But the Avadhi language spoken by the villagers and the length of the enterprise will restrict its prospects to an extent.