The film "Lagaan" is incredibly enjoyable and absolutely unrepeatable at the same time. It is about India in 1893 and has sports, politics, romance, musical numbers, low humor, and high drama. As such, it fits squarely into the canon of entertainment created by the world's largest film industry, "Bollywood," which is based in Bombay.
The Bombay-based Hindi film industry, also known as Bollywood, is one of the biggest in the world, yet it is mostly unknown outside of India and the Indian diaspora. However, the musical "Lagaan" has gone beyond the call of duty.
That is incorrect. ''Lagaan'' may appear naive, but it has everything, however, it is about four hours long which is a typical length for a Hindi movie. It is packed with lavish production numbers, handsome actors, and a generous variety of traditional melodramatic tropes. This is a movie that understands what it is doing and approaches it with savviness, professionalism, and true flair?pleasing a large, popular audience.
"Lagaan" is about the British era of power in India. Ashutosh Gowariker, who also served as the director and writer of the movie, paints the British Army as callous tyrants who insidiously incite conflict among the local rajahs while demanding protection money from each one of them. The amount, known as lagaan, is formally a land tax but is really a tribute given by the local farmers to their chief, who then compensates the English.
The commanding officer of the local British regiment, Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne), isn't going to give the parched locals a respite even though it hasn't rained in Champaner, a hamlet in hot central India, for two years. He challenges Bhuvan ( Amir Khan) to play a cricket match and he will waive the land tax over two years if the locals win a cricket match against the British regiment; else, they will be required to pay three times the tax, an excessive sum. Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), the most energetic and attractive among the locals, accepts the challenge and builds a team to play against the British ruler.
Because the villagers have no notion of how cricket is played, Captain Russell is confident. But Bhuvan thinks it's close enough to a game they all used to play called "gilli-danda," and with the covert help of the captain's sister Elizabeth Russell (Rachel Shelley), who is horrified by her brother's harshness decides to help Bhuvan in playing cricket.
Mr. Khan, one of India's top two or three actors, portrays Bhuvan and has gorgeous features. As is common in Bollywood films, the man is the erotic focal point, and two aggressive women battle it out for his attention: Gauri (Gracy Singh), The local girl who has loved him since they were children, as well as the stately Elizabeth, who is surprisingly open to the thought of dating an Indian peasant for a Victorian lady. The finest musical sequence in the movie is based on their rivalry and has Bhuwan & Gauri dancing out their love in the countryside while Elizabeth, who is alone herself in her chamber in the intimidating English stronghold, dreams of donning a sari and cuddling with Bhuvan in his modest rural house.
''Lagaan'' is a utopian ideal of a perfect society, brought together in literal and symbolic harmony, much like many of the classic Hollywood musicals. Bhuvan unifies the farmers in an alliance against their colonial exploiters by recruiting his players from the village's outcasts or outsiders (the team includes both a Muslim and an untouchable). Even the neighborhood rajah, whose livelihood depends on the British, is drawn into the thrill of the game. Three days and around eighty minutes of viewing time are devoted to the tournament's dramatic conclusion as Mr. Gowariker squeezes every last bit of tension out of a game that, even after 225 minutes, is still difficult for beginners to understand.
Like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the first martial arts film to be released in mainstream American theaters, "Lagaan" is well-suited to become the first crossover Bollywood smash since it is polished, flawlessly executed, albeit slightly denatured, representation of a culturally distinct form of entertainment. Bollywood composer A. R. Rahman's upbeat pop tune stays away from the upper registers that may occasionally sound harsh to Western ears. Anil Mehta's earthy cinematography and Mr. Gowariker's densely crowded, spatially complicated wide-screen visuals give the movie a visual certainty that is uncommon in national filmmaking.
This movie is a magnificent and overwhelming fairytale. It really deserved an Oscar nomination! In addition to the nice and well-directed story, the film has wonderful songs and interpretations, romance, treason, dispute, drama, beautiful messages, and outstanding choreography, and is endorsed as a family film.