Lagaan (2001)

Written by Kumar Dave, Sanjay Dayma, Ashutosh Gowariker, based on a story by Gowariker, with additional dialogue by K.P. Saxena
Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker
Starring Aamir Khan, Paul Blackthorne, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley, Yashodamai


Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rent it.

Welcome to the India of the Victorian Age. You know--when all the Brits walked around looking like refugees from a Moebius graphic novel. Anyway, the Brits are running the show, and they've imposed a tax, known as lagaan, on the locals. This is essentially a government-sponsored protection racket, since the Brits make peace between the different local factions, each run by a Rajah. The lagaan is a healthy portion of the locals' crops; a small bit is kept by the Rajah--the majority is forwarded over to the Brits. Now the rains haven't been too kind to the people in Champaner...they barely have enough to subsist on themselves, much less hand some over. So they go to their Rajah to lift the lagaan from them for this year. However, their entreaties catch the attention of the sadistic Captain Russell (Blackthorne), who's in charge of the Brit contingency at Champaner. He makes a wager with the locals--they put together a team and beat the Brits in a game of cricket, then no lagaan for three years. However, if the Indians lose--it's triple lagaan for everybody. It seems like a helluva longshot...but for one villager, Bhuvan (Khan), it looks like the only chance for survival--so he takes the bet.

Fair warning--this is Bollywood cinema, so there are certain things you can expect up front. First: the film is long. It's almost four hours, in fact. Second: there will be singing and a goodly amount of that. Yes, there are a number of songs involved, and they're not bad. In fact, Bollywood musical or no, this is a decent flick. It can truly hang with the underdog subgenre of sports flicks--in fact, while watching it truly made me think of the Caine/Stallone film Victory, although the Indians here were certainly operating against bigger odds from a game perspective.

The leads, both Indian and English, do their jobs relatively well, although it's the supporting characters that have the most memorable roles. Pradeep Rawat as the harsh-looking mercenary Deva, Rajesh Vivek as the village mystic/loonbag Guran, and Amin Hajee as the mute drummer Bagha--all of these stood out for me as extremely entertaining secondary characters. But here it's the story that shines more than anything else--because as the game approaches, sure there's singing and lightness...but as the game itself wears on, it's damn serious. And the stakes are incredibly high. Never before have I been so intrigued and caught up in something that I didn't understand in the least.

And that's the main problem I have with the film--granted, it's Bollywood, so there are certain things that you can expect not to get from a cultural standpoint. However--the disc I'm reviewing is a Columbia/Tristar release, this film was India's pick for the Oscars the year it was eligible, and it's got a lot of English language in it. And yet, if you don't understand the game of cricket, you're missing a lot. I can't tell you how frustrating it was to see a ball get hit in some fashion, and then watch the crowd either go nuts or look like all their hopes were dashed--and have no clue why. They missed a golden opportunity, seeing as how Rachel Shelley's character "defects" to teach the villagers the game. Why not spend a few extra minutes acclimating others about the game?

Or even if you say, yes, it's a Bollywood film so why bore your core audience with info about a game that's the most popular sport in their country? Well, fine, then why not give me a five-minute crash course as part of the features on the disc? It seems a little nuts that you've kept people who don't understand the game from completely getting into the film--especially when the emotions run so high and are fanned so well over the course of the competition.

That's not to say the disc is devoid of features--the Scene Unseen segment is rather fascinating. Over fifteen minutes in length, it gives not just one deleted scene, not just a few deleted scenes, but an entire deleted direction for the film. Granted, seeing this you're glad they decided to redirect the way that they did and jettison this idea, but it's fascinating to see an entirely different slant on the storyline at hand. It's a shame, though, that this wasn't accompanied by some kind of commentary explaining exactly what the impetus was for moving to the storyline we see in the film.

Sports fans will dig the hell out of this film, and everybody else will at least enjoy it. I just caution you to make sure you know what the heck cricket is about before you start watching, otherwise you might get lost. It's worth renting.

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