Lagaan (Bhojpuri/Hindi: लगान; Urdu: لگان; translation: Land tax), also known as Lagaan: Once upon a time in India, is a Bollywood feature film made in India. It became the third Hindi language film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (after Mother India in 1957 and Salaam Bombay! in 1989). The film, based on an original story by Ashutosh Gowarikar, was also directed by him. It starred Aamir Khan and Gracy Singh in the lead pair with Rachel Shelley, Paul Blackthorne and A. K. Hangal in supporting roles.
The movie is set in the Victorian period of the British Raj, and revolves around the peasants from a barren village who are oppressed by high taxes imposed by the British. When the peasants attempt to persuade the officers to reduce the taxes, the officers put forth a proposition to the peasants. One senior officer offers them to cancel their taxes for three years if their village team beats them at cricket. After accepting this proposition, the villagers face the arduous task of learning the game and playing for a result that will change their village's destiny.
The film received critical acclaim and awards at several international film festivals, as well as many Bollywood awards. Released on June 15, 2001 it became one of the biggest hits of the summer while its DVD sales is the highest ever for a Bollywood movie.
Lagaan is set in late 19th century India. Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne), the commanding officer of a British cantonment, oppresses the people of Champaner with high taxes (lagaan). The local ruler, Rajah Pooran Singh (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), asks that taxes be lowered to ease the suffering of the drought-stricken villagers. Captain Russell humiliates the Rajah by asking him to eat meat if he wishes the taxes to be lowered. The Rajah, a vegetarian by religion, says that he must keep the rules of his religion and his caste; he cannot eat meat. Captain Russell then doubles the taxes.
The peasants, who are already suffering from a prolonged drought, are devastated by this news. The monsoon is late; they will be unable to pay regular taxes, much less double taxes. They beg the Rajah to help them, but he says he cannot persuade the British to mercy.
The villagers, returning from their fruitless audience with the rajah, stop to watch the British officers playing cricket. Captain Russell notices them and sees the young, impetuous Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), who has previously angered him. The captain offers to cancel the taxes of the whole province for three years if the villagers can beat his men at cricket. If they lose, they will owe triple tax. To the horror of the other villagers, Bhuvan accepts this wager on their behalf. Later, he explains that as they can pay neither double nor triple taxes, they should grab the chance for a tax remission.
Nonetheless, the villagers of Champaner, and of all the neighboring villages, are furious with Bhuvan. No one has ever played cricket. How can complete novices beat the British?
Upon learning of Captain Russell’s wager, his superiors in the British Army admonish him for his arrogant and irresponsible behavior. They tell him that if he loses the match, he will have to reimburse all the taxes from his own pocket and moreover suffer a transfer to East Africa.
Led by the courageous Bhuvan and helped by Russell’s good-hearted sister Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), a few villagers begin to learn cricket. As time progresses, more and more villagers are convinced to join Bhuvan's team. The villagers have eccentric self-styled techniques - Goli swings his arms many times before releasing the ball, while Bhura, the chicken farmer, organises fielding training for the other villagers by having them attempt to catch his hens.
As they spend time together, Elizabeth falls in love with Bhuvan, who is himself attached to a charming local girl, Gauri (Gracy Singh). Though Bhuvan feels nothing but respect for Elizabeth and Elizabeth never expresses her feelings, Gauri sees how matters stand and is anxious until Bhuvan declares his love. This infuriates the woodcutter Lakha, who had hoped to win Gauri himself.
Lakha decides to humble Bhuvan by forcing him to lose the match. Lakha joins the team, but secretly meets with Captain Russell, informing him of everything that is happening. The captain tries to prevent his sister from helping the villagers, but she defies him.
In the end, Bhuvan has only ten players, one less than the eleven needed for a cricket team. Bhuvan finds his final player by chance, after the village cripple and untouchable Kachra inadvertently demonstrates his ability to bowl leg spin while returning the ball to the players. However, the village head and other members of the team threaten to quit the team, refusing to play with an untouchable. Bhuvan responds with an impassioned speech in front of the village, chastising everyone for their discrimination, after which they agree to allow Kachra to take his place in the team.
On the first day of the match, large numbers of villagers, many from outlying areas, have come to watch the eagerly awaited match. Members of the British leadership in India are also present, and the match is umpired by two Britons based in Kanpur (spelled Cawnpore before 1948).
Captain Russell wins the toss and elects to bat. The British officers make a strong start, and put on more than fifty runs before Lieutenant Smith, Captain Russell's deputy, is run out by Bhura after a mix-up. Goli then quickly follows up by bowling out one of the British officers, who are unable to pick up his multiple swing bowling action and repeatedly miss the ball. Captain Russell then attempts to convince the umpires to ban Goli's bowling because of the multiple swinging of the arm, but Elizabeth runs onto the field and points out there is nothing in the laws of cricket that prohibits this, much to her brother's chagrin. However, Captain Russell detects that Goli grunts immediately before releasing the ball, allowing the officers to detect his deliveries. After that, Russell and his partner easily dispatch his bowling.
Bhuvan brings on his trump card, Kachra, who has been spinning his leg break significantly during practice. However, Kachra's spin deserts him and he concedes a lot of runs. During the first day, Lakha, the Indians' best fielder, deliberately drops many catches and at the end of play, the British batsmen are in a strong position. That night, Elizabeth sees Lakha travelling to the British camp to meet her brother and she informs Bhuvan. The villagers attempt to kill Lakha on the spot but Bhuvan offers Lakha one last chance.
The next day, the British continue to play with ease against the Indians, and are only three wickets with almost 300 runs, at the lunch break, with Russell confidently predicting to his superiors that they will reach 600. However, Lakha takes a diving one-handed catch which sparks the British batting collapse. Kachra is brought back to bowl, and rediscovers his ability to spin the ball and takes a hat trick, bowling one of the officers around his legs with a leg break that spun more than a meter. Captain Russell reaches his century before being dismissed by Bhuvan, who gives him a send-off. The eccentric village mystic, Guran, gets in on the act. After one batsman repeatedly charges many meters out of the crease to hit his balls, he deliberately bowls a full toss way over the batsman's head, with the wicket keeper Ishwar (who is Gauri's father) stumping the batsman. The officers are bowled out after losing their last seven wickets for less than fifty runs.
The Indians start the run chase strongly, with Bhuvan and Deva Singh Sodhi, a former Sikh sepoy, opening the batting and put on seventy-odd runs. However, a straight drive from Bhuvan deflects off the hands of Lieutenant Smith, the bowler, onto the stumps, with Deva backing up too far and being run out. The Indians then lose a sequence of quick wickets. When Lakha comes into bat, Russell orders his fastest bowler Yardley to knock Lakha's head off. Yardley then bowls a beamer which hits Lakha directly in the temple. Lakha is concussed and falls onto the stumps and is given out hit wicket anyway. Guran briefly launches a counter-attack which his unusual repertoire of shots, while engaging in sledging against the bowlers. Eventually he is dismissed and the team suffers another injury when Ishmail is forced to retire hurt after being struck on the foot by a yorker. At the end of the day's play, more than half the team is out and the team has scored less than half of the required runs.
The final day starts well for the Indians, with Bhuvan and the wicket keeper Ishwar batting steadily. However, not-so-young Ishwar begins to tire, and is run out after trying to run for an extra run. Bhuvan blames himself for pushing Ishwar's fitness too hard. Ismail returns to the crease after the umpires allow the village boy Tipu to act as a runner. Bhuvan passes his century and Ismail his fifty as the Indians seize control of the match. However, Smith has another trick up his sleeve and as he is about to bowl to Bhuvan, he stops. The unsuspecting Tipu continues walking out of his crease and is run out.
As a result, the match turns again, with runs still needed, and the last batsman to enter the crease is Kachra, whose disability means he cannot hold the bat properly. However, the English bowlers repeatedly miss the stumps while Bhuvan continues to score. The match comes down to the last over. Bhuvan is struck on the head with a bouncer and eventually, Kachra needs to strike a six out of playing arena from the last ball of the match. With his disability, he can only knock the ball a short distance and the Indians manage only a single. Bhuvan and the Indian camp are distraught, while the British are jubilant. Nobody however, has heard the umpire signal no ball. Thus, Yardley has bowl the last ball again. Bhuvan swings extremely hard with a pull shot, that goes very high up into the air off a top edge. Captain Russell backpedals at long on, and the ball finally descends into his hands after an eternity and Bhuvan is caught. He then turns around to the British officials sitting under the marquee, and roars in celebration, while the whole stadium is still silent, yet to comprehend what has happened. The British contingent are unimpressed by Russell's antics, and when he looks down at his feet, he finally realises that he has backpedalled too far and was beyond the boundary of the playing area when he caught the ball. Bhuvan's shot has scored six runs, securing a one wicket win for the Indians. The crowd then spontaneously erupts and invades the field, chairing Bhuvan off the field. Suddenly, dark clouds form out of a hitherto cloudless sky, and the drought breaks.
After the match, the British high command orders that the cantonment at Champaner be disbanded in humiliation at losing to the Indians. The narrator closes the story by reporting that Russell is transferred to East Africa and Elizabeth returns back to London, and remains unmarried for the rest of her life, remembering Bhuvan, who marries Gauri.
|Quote in Hindi||Translation||Note|
तुम्हार खोपदी घूम गयी है, भुवन?...खुद तोह डूबोगेय, हुम सब क लैके डूबोगेय!
|Have you gone crazy, Bhuvan? Not only you, we will all be ruined||Head of the village to Bhuvan when faced with the prospect of the cricket match.|
हा अर्जन, हम सप्ना देखत है. और सप्न वोही साकार कर पावे है, जो उन्हे देखत है
|Yes Arjan, I dream. For only those who can dream can make their dreams come true||Bhuvan to Arjan during an altercation.|
जो है तुम्रे मन मै, वोही हम्रे मन मै. जो सप्ना है तुम्रा, सप्ना वही हम्रे है जीवन मै
|What's in your heart, is in my heart too. The dream you have is also my dream in life.||An excerpt from a song|
Avadhi, which is a dialect of Hindi, is primarily from a region in Uttar Pradesh. This was chosen to give the feel of the language spoken during that era. However, the language was diluted so that the common man could understand it. The dialogues, which were a combination of three different dialects: Avadhi, Bhojpuri and Brajbhasha were penned by noted Hindi writer, K. P. Saxena.
Bhanu Athaiya, an Oscar winner for Gandhi, was the costume designer for the film. With a large number of extras used in the film, it was a challenge for the designer to make enough costumes. She spent a lot of time researching to lend authenticity to the characters of the film.
Most of the ancient tools and equipment depicted in the movie were lent to the crew by the local villagers. Initially, they did not want to part with their equipment, but after much coaxing, they gave in. However, they traveled to different parts of the country to collect the musical instruments used in that day and era.
During the shooting, Ashutosh suffered from a slipped disc and had to rest for 15 days. However during this period, he had his bed next to the monitor and continued with his work.
The filming schedule was spread across the winter and summer seasons commencing early January and finishing in mid-June. This was physically challenging to many with the temperatures ranging from 0 - 50 degrees Celsius. Throughout the shoot, the actors had to hydrate themselves and sit in the shade. The schedule was strict. The day began at 6 A.M., getting dressed up and getting into the actors' bus, which took them to the sets in Kanuria. All the actors, including Aamir, travelled on that bus. If anyone missed the bus, it was up to them to reach the sets. One day, Aamir was late and missed the actors' bus that took them to the sets. That day, his wife Reena, the executive producer, reprimanded him for being late. She told him he had to set an example for the rest of the crew. "If he started coming late, how could she tell the others to come on time?" While on the sets, the actors were given call sheets with the day's timetable such as breakfast, hair styling, make-up, costumes, etc.
It shared the Best Film prize at the Portland International Film Festival, won the Audience Award at the Leeds International Film Festival and the The Norwegian Film Institute's award at the Bergen International Film Festival. Apart from these screenings, it was also screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Cairo International Film Festival, Stockholm International Film Festival, Helsinki International Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival.
The film garnered a cumulative of $2.5 million at the international box-office and Rs. 38 crores at the domestic box-office.
Lagaan is an enormously entertaining movie, like nothing we've ever seen before, and yet completely familiar. This film is like nothing they've seen before, with its startling landscapes, architecture and locations, its exuberant colors, its sudden and joyous musical numbers right in the middle of dramatic scenes, and its melodramatic acting (teeth gnash, tears well, lips tremble, bosoms heave, fists clench). At the same time, it's a memory of the films we all grew up on, with clearly defined villains and heroes, a romantic triangle, and even a comic character who saves the day. Lagaan is a well-crafted, hugely entertaining epic that has the spice of a foreign culture.
A review from The Guardian said that "Lagaan is a lavish epic, a gorgeous love story, and a rollicking adventure yarn. Larger than life and outrageously enjoyable, it's got a dash of spaghetti western, a hint of Kurosawa, with a bracing shot of Kipling." About the film, The BBC said "Lagaan is anything but standard Bollywood fodder, and is the first must-see of the Indian summer. A movie that will have you laughing and crying, but leaving with a smile." The review also added that the "director Ashutosh Gowariker captures the beauty and simplicity of rural life in India at the turn of the century." Los Angeles Times wrote that the film was "an affectionate homage to a popular genre that raises it to the level of an art film with fully drawn characters, a serious underlying theme, and a sophisticated style and point of view." The review added by saying that "Lagaan masterfully integrates song and drama into a sophisticated but lengthy tale of injustice."
A medley of many such reviews on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a approval rating of 95%.
A review from The Hindu wrote that "the movie is not just a story. It is an experience. An experience of watching something that puts life into you, that puts a cheer on your face, however depressed you might be." The Times of India wrote that "Lagaan has all the attractions of big-sounding A. R. Rehman songs, excellent performances by Aamir Khan [..] and a successful debut for pretty Gracy Singh. In addition, there is the celebrated David vs Goliath cricket match, which has audiences screaming and clapping." An Indian entertainment portal in its review said that "the film has many brownie points. A R Rahman's music, Anil Mehta's cinematography (even though some obtrusions to the eyes exist in the many jerky pans), Bhanu Athaiya's costumes and Nakul Kamte's sound." About the performances, it said that "though as an artiste, Gracy could do well with less of her eager facial contortions and hone her admittedly good enunciation and emoting to perfection." About the rest of the cast, "Raghuveer Yadav as Bura, the poultry owner, and Yashpal Sharma as the village baddie, stand out." It, however, attributed the film with a poor script by saying "what is one to say about a film which exhausts its plot in the first two hours and 40 minutes, and devotes an hour to a cricket match?"
Apart from winning several awards at the film festivals, Lagaan won several Bollywood awards.
In 2002, it won Filmfare Awards for the music director, lyricist, male singer (Udit Narayan for Mitwa), female singer (Alka Yagnik for O Rey Chhori), story, lead actor, director and for the film. In the same year's IIFA Awards, it won the best music director, best female singer (Asha Bhosle for Radha Kaise Na Jale), best actor, best director and the best film awards in the ceremony held in Malaysia. It won the National Film Awards for art direction, costume design, audiography, lyrics, male singer (Udit Narayan for Mitwa), music director and the film for providing wholesome entertainment Apart from these major awards, it also won awards in the Star Screen Awards and Zee Cine Awards ceremonies.
Apart from being a nominee at the 74th Academy Awards, it was also a nominee for the Screen International Award at the 2002 European Film Awards. Besides these, it was also nominated for several Bollywood awards.
On February 12, 2002, Lagaan was nominated for the best foreign language film at the Academy Award nominations ceremony. After the nomination, Khan reacted by saying, "To see the name of the film and actually hear it being nominated was very satisfying".
Post-nomination reactions poured in from several parts of the world. USA Today said "Hooray for Bollywood, and India's Lagaan". With Sony Pictures Classics distributing the film and Baz Luhrmann, director of award-winning Moulin Rouge!, raving about Lagaan, it gave Lagaan a chance to win. The BBC said, the nomination raises Bollywood hopes that Indian films will become more popular in the US. While in India, the nomination was celebrated with news reports about a win bringing in "a great boost for the Indian film industry" and "a Bharat Ratna for Aamir Khan and the status of a ‘national film’ for Lagaan".
After No Man's Land won the Academy Award for the best foreign language film, there was widespread disappointment in India. Aamir Khan said, "Certainly we were disappointed. But the thing that really kept us in our spirits was that the entire country was behind us".
There was criticism about the Oscars after the ceremony. One film maker, Mahesh Bhatt said that the "American film industry was insular and the foreign category awards were given just for the sake of it." Gowarikar added by saying, "Americans must learn to like our films".
|1||Ghanan Ghanan||Udit Narayan,Sukhwinder Singh, Alka Yagnik, Shankar Mahadevan, Shaan, Chorus||06.11||Javed Akhtar||A song where the village-folk celebrate the arrival of clouds in the sky.|
|2||Mitwa||Udit Narayan, Sukhwinder Singh, Alka Yagnik, Srinivas||06:47||Javed Akhtar||The song picturized on Bhuvan in which he tries to recruit villagers onto his team.|
|3||Radha Kaise Na Jale||Asha Bhonsle, Udit Narayan, Vaishali, Chorus||05:34||Javed Akhtar||The song picturized on Gauri and Bhuvan dancing at a festival for Radha and Krishna.|
|4||O Rey Chhori||Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, Vasundhara Das||05:59||Javed Akhtar||Bhuvan expressing his love for Gauri, and Elizabeth expressing her love for Bhuvan.|
|5||Chale Chalo||A. R. Rahman, Srinivas||06:40||Javed Akhtar||Bhuvan motivating his team-mates for the cricket match.|
|6||O Paalanhaare||Lata Mangeshkar, Udit Narayan, Chorus||05:18||Javed Akhtar||A song where the village-folk praise Lord Krishna.|
Los Angeles Times said that the "songs and dances are not mere interludes inserted in the action, bringing it to a halt--a Bollywood trademark--but are fully integrated into the plot and marked by expressive, dynamic singing and dancing that infuse a historical drama with energy and immediacy." A review of the tracks suggests that "the music is true to the time period (the British Raj)." Another review says that "A. R. Rahman is again at his prodigious best. His score for Aamir Khan’s period drama Lagaan is a delectable blend of Indian classical music, folk melodies and jazzy snazzy tunes."
The second was released as anniversary edition three-disc DVD box after six years of the theatrical release. This also included Chale Chalo which was a documentary on the making of Lagaan, a curtain raiser on the making of the soundtrack, deleted scenes, trailers, along with other collectibles. After its release, it became the highest selling DVD in India beating Sholay (1975).
A comic book, Lagaan: The Story, along with two coloring books, a mask book and a cricket board game were subsequently released to the commercial market. The comic book, available in English and Hindi, was targeted for children between the ages of six and 14. At the book's launch, Aamir Khan said that they were keen to turn the film into a comic strip during the pre-production phase itself.