Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker and Donald Shebib.
Starring: Aamir Khan (Bhuvan), Gracy Singh (Gauri), Rachel Shelley (Elizabeth Russell), Paul Blackthorne (Captain Andrew Russell), Suhasini Mulay (Yashodamai).
Hindi movie about the effect of British injustices on a small Indian village of peasants
Lagaan was a tithe that the poor Indian peasants had to pay the British to subsidize their own subjugation. In good years, the peasants can pay the tax, but there has been drought recently and the peasants can't afford to pay the full tax. That, however, does not seem to be of any concern to British Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne). While all the peasants are afraid of the captain, there is one, named Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), that by his rebellious actions draws the ire of the Captain. To humiliate Bhuvan, the Captain gets him to make a bet: if the local Indians can defeat the British at their game of cricket, Bhuvan's village and province will not have to pay Lagaan for three years. If the Indians lose, however, they must pay triple Lagaan for the year.
The whole province, (except for his childhood sweetheart Gauri (Gracy Singh)), is outraged when Bhuvan accepts the challenge. If the villagers have to pay triple Lagaan, many will starve to death. But Bhuvan is stubborn and will not back down. And if this is a situation of a must win for the Indians, Bhuvan quickly proceeds to convince the villagers one by one to learn cricket.
Elizabeth Russell (Rachel Shelley), the sister of Captain Russell, feels the Indians are being treated unfairly and she volunteers to teach the Indians the game of cricket. This leads to a love triangle between Bhuvan and Gauri and Elizabeth.
But who will win the game? The evil British or the poor peasants?
The movie has a bit of a Rocky theme, the underdogs against the champions, David versus Goliath that keeps one interested. And accompanying this is the theme of togetherness, where a group of villagers come together in pursuit of a common goal. The movie is a little long, with a very long game occurring over three days, but the movie keeps your interest. (I thought Paul Blackthorne's Captain was a bit over the top, but Aamir Khan's Bhuvan is very charming with good performances by Gracy Singh (Gauri) and Rachel Shelley (Elizabeth Russell).
There are several musical numbers which seems to be typical of the Indian films. It was also refreshing to see the British through the eyes of the Indians themselves, instead of through western eyes.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See the historical background for the other movies in this section.
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