Before I even start to write something about the movie let me just take a deep breath and consider for a moment what I watched a couple of hours ago.
If you asked me yesterday if it was possible to get an exceptional and perfect movie from Bollywood, I would probably have said maybe, with considerable skepticism. But today-now, I am full of faith and hope that Bollywood will graduate to the next level of movie making. Bollywood has always had great art movies like Salam Bombay, Diksha, Mirch Masala, Ankur, Fire, Hari Bhari etc, which did not fit into the main stream Indian cinema. We also have movies with great stories like Awara, Hero, Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Apke Hain Kaon, Ankhen, Rajababu, Beta, Raja Hindustani, Kaho Na Pyar Hain, Gadar etc, which also have a certain mass appeal to them which pulls people to the cinemas to forget their daily austerity of life. We have many more exhaustive lists of good movies which cater to our different emotions. Though there were some attempts to combine art and commercial cinema In Bollywood it never delivered the right kind of movie - there are exceptions always- most of the times if the story is good the screenplay is bad or if screenplay is good the direction or cinematography is bad, it felt like Bollywood had an habit of screwing up one thing or the other about a movie.
If I have to quote the columnist Pritish Nandy when he said, "Our cinema history will now have two eras. Before-Lagaan and post-Lagaan. The standards of movie making will have to completely change. Lagaan has set the new standard. It is better than anything I have seen." I thought this person has gone a bit overboard. But today I am supportive of his statements.
The movie Lagaan is an odyssey set in late 19th century Northern India, which starts in a village Champaner whose citizens have not had a good harvest in the last two years. It had not rained enough last year and it had not rained yet that year. They were living meager lives getting along with what ever they had. They were given a tax break last year when they paid only half the regular tax, but this year the Raja asks for double the regular tax. This creates turmoil among the people and they want to ask the Raja to spare them, as they were not able to grow anything. When the Raja is not able to help them, circumstances give rise to a wager between the citizens of Champaner and the British Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne) which is accepted by Bhuvan (Aamir Khan). The wager is if the villagers -who know nothing about cricket- beat the British in their own game, they and the whole province won't have to pay taxes for the next three years but if they lose they pay three times the normal tax. What follows is the saga of how the whole village community comes together as one and fights the British at their own game.
I am not a big fan of Cricket, I don't know much about cricket -I don't know how five-day matches are played -still. Some people did mention that the movie is solely based on a cricket match and if a person does not like cricket he might not like the movie. Not only did I realize that Cricket which has a living breathing soul of its own in the subcontinent has not been used much as the subject of entertainment I also got a crash course in cricket.
When the cricket match started in the movie without the song "O Palanhare" being played I was very confused and thought the guy changing the reels in the projector room missed a reel or something. I was very eagerly waiting for that song -My favorite song, full of love and hope. I came to know from my friend that cricket is five-day matches and that one-day matches were invented in the 1970's. I also came to know the intricacies of bowling, that a new ball cannot be spun and that an old ball won't bounce. The use of cricket in this movie as a tool to fight the British oppression by the people of the village Champaner was very convincing and exciting.
Now coming to the movie itself, I personally being a writer the first thing that makes me like a movie or dislike it is the screenplay. Ashutosh Gowariker has created a perfect screenplay with no flaws and I really welcome his using the local dialect for his characters. For once not only has a good story met a great screenplay writer in Bollywood, it is a perfect mix of art and commercial cinema. All his characters be it Bhuvan, Gauri (Gracy Singh), Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), Bhura (Raghuveer Yadav), Ishwar (Sri Vallabh Vyas), Goli (Daya Shankar Pandey), Deva (Pradeep Rawat), Lakha (Yashpal Sharma), Kachra (Aditya Lakhia), Guran (Rajesh Vivek), Bagha (Amin Hajee), or the rest of them, each and every one of them has his/her own ground. His characters are not phantoms in thin air; every one of them has firm foundations and can stand up for themselves, they were never compromised or swayed upon pressure. For once I saw a screenplay which probably had the maximum possible freedom in writing what the writer believed.
You will laugh at the acting and dialogues of the village astrologer Guran. You will be moved, touched and praying with hope when the clouds of uncertainty hover around the match. The writer has also tried to address the issue of untouchablity using the character of kachra who is an untouchable and a handicap. He has also given a lot of importance to making his script flawless by working out the minute details, like when he glibly captures the emotions of Gauri when Bhuvan is interacting with Elizabeth, or when the team is sent of to play the match, everybody has their own way of getting blessings before going off to the match. It is very reminiscent of India which is a cradle of many cultures and traditions. The writer has taken the extra pain to go the extra mile and depict these minute differences that we cherish and still keeps us together.
A.R. Rahman has done a great job with the music. He has used the appropriate music at the appropriate places except for some scenes. For once the songs in the movie did not feel like they were unnecessary (Although I like to listen to a lot of Hindi movie songs they just don't fit into the movie, they stand out like a sour thumb). But in Lagaan the songs blend in with the story and the lyrics can just be read and be an integral part of the dialogue. Also the fact that the songs did not have unnecessary extras dropping out from the sky they did not feel as if they don't belong there. The whole village in itself is shown as a self sustained community, which is very true of many villages in India.
This movie can easily be equated with any great movie ever made anywhere in the world. Not that I have to compare it with Titanic or Gladiator to give it its dues Lagaan is in itself a different movie which can never be compared to any other movie. It has it own individuality and address. The movie also did not try to portray Bhuvan as the only hero or as a one-man show. It made an excellent effort in showcasing the importance of unity among diversity which is the urgent need for a country like India.
This movie blends hope, humor, love, motivation, oppression, dreams and the whole gamut into one long saga. It is as if a whole orchestra has come together to perform the best masterpiece there is perfectly. It is certainly getting on to my list of the most re-watchable movies, it is right up there with Contact, Good Will Hunting, Meet Joe Black etc.
We have heard it many times that Democracy and Secularism are the cause for all the problems plaguing the country. Lagaan has shown that it is not Democracy which has failed us but we who have failed Democracy. Lagaan has shown it in simple fashion that though we have our faith and support for the raja to protect our rights and us, but his hands are tied by his own convictions and circumstances. The movie shows that we always have faith in our rajas to protect us but when he cannot do his duty it is for the people to fight and protect their rights. We are a country of peace loving and very compassionate people with respect for the elderly and the great, but when it comes to war we can and will stand against the enemy and defeat them. As what happened to Arjuna in the Mahabharata to fight injustice he had to take up arms against his own brothers, he had the good fortune to have Lord Krishna by his side to guide him. Today we need people like Ashutosh Gowariker to guide us in taking up arms against the enemy.
Though we believe in the Raja to do the fighting for us, Lagaan shows that the Raja has flaws and he is also but a human. When the Raja cannot do anything to help his Praja, the Praja can fight for themselves without the help of the Raja and win their justice. For once lets have Champaners and Bhuvans all over the country who will make the whole community come together and fight for their rights and justice. What India needs today is a lot of Bhuvans who will fight against the oppression and injustices being committed on the people of India. It is time to play more cricket matches with the evils of the society and drive away corruption, bigotry, fanaticisms etc. And lets get rid of the Lagaan we pay on justice, rights, freedom, prejudice and honor. Lets us for once participate in the democracy and make centuries of runs towards progress of India and its dreams, and get hatricks in bowling out the evils of society.
I must take a moment and congratulate all the people who worked on this movie for making a perfectly perfect movie. It feels like each and every person who worked with Lagaan has believed in the movie and what it had to offer. I would first like to appreciate and pat the casting director for handpicking such a wonderful cast. Each and every person played his role to the perfection. The set was superbly done with attention to minute detail.
Hats of to the director Ashutosh Gowariker who wrote a great screenplay and also did a superb job at directing it. The English language should probably invent some new words of praise for this movie. Hats off to Bhanu Athaiya the costume designer of Gandhi fame, who did a great job in recreating the clothing style of the late 19th century rural India. Cinematographer Anil Mehta has done a splendid job using the right kind of colors and lighting - for once there was no annoying lighting. The colors were perfectly chosen. The slight orange-brown tint given to the movie was very impressive and persuasive of the times in which the movie was shot.
Lagaan should be awarded with the highest honors there are for cinema. All the people, the director, the writer, the music, costumes, art, cinematography every one of them deserves the best there is.
I, Sir, am certainly going to watch this movie whenever I have 3.45hrs to spare. I have great hope in Ashutosh Gowariker and his team that he will make more such movies and make us feel good to watch them.