Review: Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

Directed by:
Cast: , , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

Being an Aussie male, it is pretty much mandatory socially, if not legally, to know something, anything about cricket. It is pretty hard to grow up in Australia and have not swung a bat or bowled a ball at least once. Or even have a conversation related to cricket in some fashion (as men will do to avoid talking about their feelings and such, so I’m told, of course) over a beer in the summer. That, I can say, I have done at least once in my lifetime.

What I will not say is that this is my preferable pastime — if given the option. So when I first came across Lagaan as a film about cricket, well I certainly thought twice about that romantic comedy that was showing at the same time.

Alas, with such glowing praise as that from Mark, it was the least I could do to at least give it a chance. Which is fortunate because, Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters, I have seen the light because if there is anyone that can make the game of cricket interesting, it seems the Indians can.

But really, the game of cricket is really just a backdrop for an epic story of courage and integrity in the face imerialistic oppression; strength in unity when tradition divides and love because, well it is still a Bollywood film.

Aamir Kahn as Bhuvan is just such a true champion in the modern sense of the word and his rebellion against the English is the underdog story we never seem to tire of. The movie paints the English, in particular Paul Blackthorne Captian Russell, in such a nasty manner, there are no sympathies for them whatsoever during their inevitable defeat. They are almost vaudevillian in their arrogance though it does remind us how bad racism was and how alien and comical it seems now.

But with the very black and white approach to the film, Rachel Shelley as Elizabeth, the heroine of the film seems to be the one that is not rewarded for their actions – good or bad; and I can’t shake the feeling that the failure for her love interest to develop was very much part of the advesarial nature of the film.

More importantly though is the supporting cast of fellow cricketers. The Indian team is made up of the usual misfits who overcome fear and prejudices to play for what ultimately is the good of the country. The movie is as much about self empowerment as it is about smashing ‘the man’ and I was actually quite impressed there were sentiments that were very much against the traditional caste system.

As for all Bollywood films (except maybe Kaante) the costumes and locales are amazing to watch and the singing and dancing numbers don’t seem at all intrusive. There is nothing worse than a musical number interrupting the flow of the plot just because it’s been too long since the last one. Their presence should emphasise and sympathise with the sentiments of the movie and Lagaan is an ideal example of that done well.

Overall, if you need to see one Bollywood film, see Lagaan. I agree that if someone told me to go watch a musical, I’d laugh in their face. Add to that an epic musical about cricket, I’d ask them to walk a straight line. But really, it’s worth the time.

9 Nail-Biting Final Balls out of 10.
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