Lagaan is one of those films that get better every time you watch it, notably the last 45 minutes. In spite of knowing the resolution, there are moments that will make you hold your breath with goosebumps all over your body. The driving aspect is definitely the theme that makes every patriotic Indian jump up and down with joy.
The movie takes place in 1893 when India was under British colonial rule. British cantonment in Champaner imposed a heavy tax on Indian locals and during a time of drought, ruthless Capt Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne) demanded twice the tax. The locals including Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) approaches him requesting the removal of tax. But after a confrontation, Russell challenges them to a game of cricket. If the locals win then the whole province will be free of taxes for three years but if the British army win, then they will have to pay thrice the tax. Bhuvan takes up the challenge believing that it is an opportunity for them to free themselves of the burden to finally have what they work hard for. After seeing her brother’s unfair attitude towards the locals and seeing Bhuvan’s determination, Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley) volunteers to coach them with cricket lessons to win the match.
I watched Lagaan for the first time when I was 8 years old. The movie was outstanding and it keeps you at the edge of your seats. Ashutosh Gowariker recreated the British Indian scenario where the people are struggling and the same time, they want the British out of the country. The script is clearly the constructed, best part being the climax of the film. Gowariker did a fantastic job in terms of direction, art, production design, and performance qualities. Aamir Khan is spectacular. He is hardworking and enhanced his appeal in the iconic depiction of a popular character. He is calm when necessary, assuring, confident, and has the aggression to see to his dreams and we see that in his eyes after he dismissed Capt Russell. The only facet I found it difficult to accept is that he survived throughout the match, that was hard to digest, although there were scenarios where he almost got out but I felt like the director purposefully wanted to him look “super” heroic. Supporting cast members were perfect in their respect roles as they added the sense of desperation as well as unity during high-pressure situations.
Apart from Aamir Khan, Rajendra Gupta and Raj Zutshi, the two people who owned the show are Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne. I admired Blackthorne punchy performance as he will make you hate him and have high respect for the manner in which he was unwilling to bow before anyone. His facial expressions during the cricket match when the locals scored high runs & wickets were on-point and he nailed it in the scene where he put forward the challenge to Bhuvan and the locals. We see a flicker of hope on Bhuvan’s face when Russell says “no tax for 3 years for the whole province“, after a long hesitation while literally being a mannequin for 30 seconds, Bhuvan agrees to the challenge. It is a well-directed scene that still adds fire in your heart. The way they look at each other when Russell came in to bat, was similar to Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds after “monkey gates” incident and it makes you chuckle in a way. Rachel Shelley delivered an adorable and graceful character who plays a major leverage in the villager’s struggle to freedom. While there is no voice for women in this film other than their role as mothers and love interests, Shelley’s version of a woman, who defied her brother’s threats and demands to side with the locals, is uplifting. She lends her hand whenever there was a setback. In addition to that, as a fictional character, Elizabeth is also one of the British nationals who were in favor of India’s liberation during British colonial rule. When Deva (Pradeep Rawat) says “I hate the British” while looking at Elizabeth, as much as she is intimidated, she also feels sorry for him and concur with the fact that the Indians deserve justice.
Technically, when analyzed today, the movie still has the touch of the late ’90s with loud background music and slower editing, but the cinematography is spectacular. Cricket match feels real and we get to feel the intensity of the game through the actions of both players and spectators. The sound effects were perfectly implemented, the echo made as Bhuvan hit the final sixer is just as effective. A.R Rahman created memorable music, my favorite being “aaja re” and “chale chalo”. Lagaan has made several records in its lifetime and it internationally accepted as one of the greatest Bollywood films ever made. It is the third Indian film to be nominated for the academy awards in the best “foreign film” category. BBC listed it in 50 must watch films before you die where it is the only Indian film. Aamir Khan gave us a gem worth remembering and Lagaan firmly established his status as the one actor who delivered great films as opposed to cheap commercial entertainers. Even after half a century, Lagaan will continue to have its tremendous impact in terms of Indian film legacy.