Saturday, 2 April 2011


Directed by: Ashutosh Gowariker
Starring: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley, Paul Blackthorne
Released: 2001
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

The complete title of this film is „Lagaan – Once upon a time in India“, so let us begin on the same note. Once upon a time, more accurately in the 19th century, it was the British Queen Victoria, who reigned supremely over the vast country named as India. And in her name the British ruled the land, that was so different from their own. One of the officers in charge of Champaner is Captain Andrew Russel. Sleazy, spoilt, rich, spending his time with hunting and thoroughly enjoying his stay in India, as it gives him a nerly complete freedom to ridicule and insult everybody. From the first moment you know he is the BAD guy in this. Once he decides he wants a local raja to eat a piece of meat, and when the latter refuses because of his religion, our dear captain decides he is insulted and in return he wants the area under his rule to pay the double ammount of lagaan (a tax given by the villagers mostly in grain). Naturally the villages are not as half as excited about the idea as captain Russel, especially since draughts has been troubling them lately.

One of the villagers, Bhuvan, is especially annoyed (which is somehow strange because while you can see others working, he himself spends his time spoiling the hunt of captain Russel) and he decides people should go to raja and discuss the matter. But raja is just right now watching a cricket match and so the villagers have to wait a while. Cricket to them seems rather silly, and after Bhuvan mocks the game, the English are deeply offended and captain Russel, never short of insulting an humiliating ideas, offers Bhuvan a deal: the lagaan will be completely forgiven for three years if the villagers can beat the English in cricket. But if they loose, they will have to pay the thrice ammount of the tax. After hearing out his companions´ advice (NO, BHUVAN! NO!) Bhuvan accepts the challenge.
"I challenge you. And I don´t  like your haircut."
"Mera haircut perfect hai, kaminey!"
After he manages to win over some of the villagers with a happy, optimistic song, and chooses his team, the training can start. And the instructor is none other then Elizabeth, captain Russel´s sister, who proves that nto all English are cold-hearted dogs. Elizabeth, appaled by her brother´s injustice, does her best to explain the rules and ways of cricket, and is so excited about her goal, that she managed to learn perfect Hindi in like two days. Being brought up by stuck-up and arrogant English society, she finds the un-washed and illiterate Bhuvan immenselly lovable and so she falls in love with him. That causes distress to Gauri – a simple girl who too loves Bhuvan. But as of now Bhuvan is only interested in the game. After he manages to convince the whole village (destroying the caste system in the process!) and much training (which involves lots of running, sweating and singing) the date is set for the game and the English and Indian cricket team face each other.....
Dream team. Chewbacca third from the left.
When I started the film I was trembling with excitement. Aamir Khan is known for his great script sense, and after all the hype sorrounding the film is HUGE. I was expecting something AMAZING. I was expecting something BIG. I was expecting something GRAND. I got a cricket match. Maybe it would all work better for me if my expectations were lower and the match itself at least 30 minutes shorter. The only thing I really carried away from watching this was a new knowledge of what is a cricket (next to completely unknown in my soccer and hockey country). Because in the end I did not really feel any message about fighting the British or anything. The movie was more like a celebration of favourite Indian sport. And that, for me as a foreign viewer, is not good enough.

The film is very well made technically. The visuals are beautiful, the direction fine, the performances are good. Aamir Khan´s strengh has never been in facial expressions, but in his very clever dialogue delivery, and he uses that in this one too. Sadly Aamir, though signed as one of the best actors in my book, is slowly beggining to bore me. There is no realy difference in the way he plays the characters. I assume that him being a very „thinking“ actor is to be blamed. Don´t think, Aamir! Give us some spontainety, some madness! Of the supporting characters the most notable is Paul Blackthorne with great Hindi and terrible accents, wonderfully hateable and fit for his character. The two females – Rachel Shelley and Gracie Singh, have nothing much to do except for being in love with Bhuvan. One is a silent, romantic type, another a very earthy, straight-forward girl. Both are good in their roles, but do not leave much impact. After all, Lagaan is not even remotely a love story.
English anger
The real deal here is cricket. It couldn´t get any more cricket-ish than this! The match, which takes no less then half of the film (!) has everything a good match should have – cheating, fighting, abusing, chanting, injuries, and loads and loads of adrenalin. But it still remains..... a cricket match. Once you´ve seen it, there is no point of coming back (not that one doubts what the result is going to be from the beggining). Brilliantly shot. But with no repeat value.

The music of Lagaan deserves a mention for sure. Composed by the bow-worthy A.R.Rahman, all the tracks are beautifully melodious and hummable. Some are even addictive. „Chale Chalo“ has been drumming in my ears for days! Similarly „Mitwa“ and „Ghanan Ghanan“. The most beautifully picturized (if we forget the glistening male bodies in Chale Chalo for a moment, ladies) is „Radha Kaise Na Jale“. Pity Gracie Singh pretty much disappeared since Lagaan, becausei in this song she proves to be a very graceful, pleasant to look at dancer.

The song „O Rey Chhori“ made me perfectly see why song and dance work in Indian films, and why they do not really work in western ones. It was all so beautifully romantic when Bhuvan and Gauri share the intimate moments together, but as soon as „I am in love, yes, I´m in love“ comes out of Elizabeth´s throat I had a feeling I´m watching a Disney (plus I can guarantee you the nightgowns back then did not lack sleeves but cleavage!).
This works.
And this doesn´t.
 A film I seriously wanted to love, but only ended up thinking it´s good. And that, my dears, is not good enough.


  1. Lagaan is a movie which at the beginning I gave 8,5/10 then thinking about it, I'd give a 7/10 too. I mean, it was very fun for me to see how cricket, a very loved game in India, "appeared" there, and it's a very well made film. But there is no repeat-value, and it's a bit too long. But I love the soundtrack!

    Great review!

  2. Actually my rating was originally 6/10 at first, but then I appreciated the technical part of the movie. he truth is I was pretty much bored througout.... in a way it was like Swades for me. I might get into some minor comparisms when I write a review for that one.

  3. Songs do work in Hollywood, if you do it right (think West Side Story, Moulin Rouge or Hairspray), but they often don't.
    Have you seen 3 Idiots or some of Aamir's older 90s flicks? He's pretty different there than now. I still like him, but yes, some of his interpretations are quite similar to each other. However, I haven't seen Lagaan yet, which is a little bit embarrassing. But I love the songs, I bought the CD some years ago, when I still bought CDs.

  4. Songs worked in Hollywood in older films, but I cannot really imagine them there now (which I think is a pity, but on the other hand it make Indian cinema so different and interesting!). I have seen 3 Idiots and some of Aamir´s earlier films too (I LOVE Dil..... with my whole dil!) and he is one of my favourites for sure. But well, he is not AS versatile as one would like him to be.

    Lagaan is surely a fine watch, at least for once, but well, the high expectation did not work here for me.

  5. Heh, this seems like an appropriate film to review today. Lagaan works best for me as a "sports movie", so I don't pay too much attention to the historical stuff and romance. I think it did a great job of explaining what cricket is and engaging me in the high and low points of the big match.

  6. I agree with you. Unfortunatelly the repeat value here is next to zero. You don´t really go and watch a match you have already seen, definitely not the whole thing.

  7. I actually loved this movie to bits. I'd never seen a minute of cricket before I watched it and became a fan after. I thought the cricket match was the highlight of the film (along with the soundtrack, which is breathtaking). I don't know if it's something anyone really pays attention to but the game was filmed SO well. It's incredibly hard to film a convincing athletic sequence, especially with a sport like cricket. To have pulled it off as well as they did required massive technical skill.

    Every time I watch Lagaan (and I've seen it a dozen or so times now) I'm on the edge of my seat right til the end. In fact the first time I saw it, when Cpt. Russel realizes he's caught the ball beyond the boundary, I cried. I was *that* involved in the story.

    And it goes without saying that an AR Rahman soundtrack is going to be great--Radha Kaise Na Jale is one of those songs that I love showing to people who've never seen Bollywood, because it's emotionally so perfect.

    Really a spectacular's one of the few films I would give 10/10 to. The acting was great--usually you expect the white extras to be awful but they were really on point here. The *only* nitpick I have was one you listed--Elizabeth's ridiculous language learning curve! If they'd had her using a translator the entire time it'd have been more believable, but then she wouldn't have been able to have time alone with Bhuvan I suppose.

  8. I loved the movie. I thaought it was an original twist on a real time period.

  9. I like "Lagaan", but it's not my favorite among Aamir Khan's movies (though it's doubtlessly very good). I had to smile at your perceptions about "O Re Chori" - because I always think: "Rahman goes Disney" as soon as Elizabeth plays with roses and sings. :-) And I have a huge problem with Gracy Singh. She's a skilled dancer, but her acting abilities are (at least for me) very disappointing. Exactly three facial expressions: joy (eyes wide open, sugary smile), anger (furrowed brow, pouting mouth) and jealousy (furrowed brow again, pouting mouth again, plus a sullen voice). I heard that Aamir Khan originally voted for Nandita Das, and that Ashutosh Gowariker found her "too intelligent". Too bad... not only for this movie. But as I said - still a very good movie.