During a terrible drought, a crippled Indian village beg to be exempt from the heavy taxes of their British rulers in order to feed themselves. But the cruel British ruler, instead, challenges them to a game of this mysterious imported sport cricket. If they win, no tax, if they lose, it is doubled. Thus the young hero Bhuvanmust assemble a team, cutting across all castes, and train them in a sport they will prove to have a natural aptitude for.
An outstanding and fully accessible piece of Indian filmmaking that manages, over its near four-hour running time, to combine the colourful trappings of its nature — singing! dancing ! melodrama! ribbons! – with the classic Hollywood sports formula. Think Rocky goes Hindi with cricket, and if that sounds crazy it shouldn’t, Ashutosh Gowariker’s film is truly beguiling and very stirring.
Lagaan is a folktale writ-large and paradoxically Westernised while still being about the constraints of colonialism. This is a film that dwells in an arch-world of archetypes — the snidely British captain (Paul Blackthorne) has a moustache fully available for the twiddling — and wound ever tighter by its allusions to Spaghetti Westerns and the meaty glories of Kurosawa. There are training montages, last minute reprieves, downtrodden fools who will have their day and a comeuppance for the British swine so sweet you have to suppress a cheer. Yet, with its cultural origins still intact, the film remains bracingly foreign and magical, loudly commenting on the ailments of colonial tax (known as “lagaan”), religion, class and cross-cultural romance (English rose Elizabeth Russell will fall for dashing hero Aamir Khan).
Awhirl with colour and magnificence — it is beautifully shot — and long but never stretched, this is a film that will contradict every prejudice you might have against that most elusive of worlds — Indian cinema. It isn’t subtle, it doesn’t want to be, but a better entryway into the alien complexities and designs of Bollywood, or, for that matter, the dizzying rules of cricket (if even stops to clearly explain the vagaries of spin bowling) you will not find.
With an equally stunning soundtrack, this rollicking yarn is a must for all film lovers.