Thursday, March 15, 2012

Essential Hindi Films: Lagaan

Three of my various personalities discussing a milestone of Hindi film history.

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker | India
Written by Ashustosh Gowariker, Kumar Dave, Sanjay Dayma, K.P. Saxena
★ Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley



My inner die-hard-core Masala-Bollywood fan

„What a film! 3 hours and 40 minutes and not a minute of boredom! I wish all films were this long nowadays, I mean yeah, you often need to spend more than one night to finish the movie - but so what? Cinema is relaxation, forgetting every day life and getting absorbed in an exotic world you shouldn't be able to relate to - but you are!
Thinking about it though, this is a pretty uncommon masala-fiest for the time, I mean 2001... it's about peasants, no Yash-Raj glamour at all! Maybe that's what made it so popular outside India. On the other hand, the moral values are the same as in every other film of the kind: 1) Indians are the best,  2) Indians are the best, 3) some English girls are okay, but they never get the hero.
The third point was the only one I would've changed, because even though Bhuvan wasn't exactly my type, I would have died of happiness if Elizabeth and he had married in the end. Hah...

Where was I? Oh yes, the movie... there were so many songs, and beautiful choreographies! You know, if only you have a great soundtrack and great choreographies, your film will never be able to fully disappoint. I mean, there was a song for every situation - the rain song (without rain), love song, fight song, theme song... it was perfect. Who cares if some scenes were really long and cricket-y, that's just the way it has to be.

And the best was that in the end we showed those English basterds: Indians are the best!
Chale chalo, chale chalo...

My inner intellectual snob with nerd glasses
(Yes, I do wear nerd glasses sometimes; if I don't wear contacts).

„Seen from the perspective of a emergent and split-up India in the times of globalization, Lagaan is a manifest of traditional Indian (film-) culture. The film lives perfectly up to the western image of Hindi film (or Bollywood), from bright colours to lip-sync songs and a certain degree of unrealism, paired with an exceptionally long running time.
However, Lagaan has gained great success overseas as well, much similar to Mother India (1957) - and also partly due to the same reasons. While tradition and patriotism are most certainly conserved in these films, they have also adapted to western film technique and style in many ways; there is nothing the western viewer wouldn't be able to understand or empathize with, no Indian slap-stick or truly exotic music, nor any "filmi" overacting apart from the common "Hollywood" overacting.

So what is Lagaan then, apart from a strangely ambiguous Bollywood-Epos? 
To get to answer this question, we must dive deeply into the film and forget all about style and formality. Because when we get to this center, we see that intrinsically, Lagaan is one of the few ancient stories that have survived all technologic and cultural evolution, and are placed above all borders created by human beings. It is a story we find in presumably all holy scriptures, and in most fairytales and myths. It is the story of the impossible happening - the seemingly weak one defeating the seemingly strong one. And that is what makes out the true magic and power of this epos.“

My inner dominating part
(The voice above all others)
„So... now I'm going to write what I really think... (S***, why didn't I think about this before, I have no idea what I think).
Oh, did you notice I have a pink laptop case? It's pretty, isn't it? ... Yeah, I liked the colours in Lagaan. Film makers should always think about the colours in a film. And cinematography. You can make a bad film with good cinematography, but it's hard to make a good film with bad cinematography.

Lagaan... well, to be honest I had the feeling that I had watched the film before. I bet with you, the first time I heard or read about Lagaan was like... seven years ago! And I always felt I should watch it, because it's a film you just can't miss, being interested in Hindi film. But I never did, until... now.

So there was almost nothing I didn't know about the film: I knew the plot, the ending, the love story, the songs (I've even had the soundtrack for 5 years now! *rahman-addict*), most of the choreographies, how long the cricket parts would be - it was weird! 
And this is also what makes it very hard for me to rate the film, because it feels like one of those classic films I watched when I had just started watching Hindi films (Mohabbatein, Chalte Chalte etc.). And I love all of these, though I know some of them aren't very good. 
But I know that Lagaan is quite good. The problem is that I like Chalte Chalte better.

I don't think you want to hear more of this, do you? Wow, it's impressive how... unsorted your thoughts are, because I'm really just writing what I think right now.
Yeah, anyhow, I've thought about the rating for a long time, and I concluded that my feelings about Lagaan pretty much resemble my feelings about The Shawshank Redemption: déjà-vu, objectively okay-to-good, some parts were great... bla, bla.

And that's how I found out that Lagaan is my personal Indian Shawshank Redemption, and therefore they get the same rating. Period.

Rating: 8.3


  1. I think Lagaan is *the* quintessential Bollywood movie. It has every aspect of an Indian Indian film possible. And it makes it work.
    I really love it though. It's entertaining. It's feel-good. It looks good and the songs are actually great. The acting is great and for once in my life cricket doesn't piss the hell out of me.

    1. It is, and I don't think there's anything wrong with loving it. Maybe with the time I will grow to love it too - the soundtrack is one of my favorites.
      I guess it's the same with cricket and India as with Germany and football - most people love it, but many hate it.

    2. There is *nothing* like India and cricket. It is literally a religion there. It is highly annoying.

    3. I believe you... but Germany and football is bad too.

    4. Hey, Stop it !! I love them both.

    5. Off course - you're a guy ;).

  2. Nikhat just stole the words out of my mouth. No doubt, It is THE quintessential Bollywood movie and everything Nikhat said except off course I like cricket.

    For your Rehman addiction, did you realize that this is the first movie Rehman did complete Indian Classical based music for ??

    1. It's a film everyone with the slightest interest in Bollywood or Indian film should've watched, and I can't believe how long it took me.

      I had no idea; I love Indian classical based music though, even though I guess many Indians and western viewers don't like it. There's a wonderful harmony to it.

  3. I was so underwhelmed by Lagaan.... and I blame my sky high expectations. I´ve kept hearing it was SO awesome like nothing else in the world.... and it turned out to be a helluva long cricket match. I think it´s a good film, but I don´t see the big deal about it. I actually got bored a lot.

    1. The last thing it is is "awesome like nothing in the world", and I'm happy that I didn't expect anything like that. I actually got pretty much what I was expecting...
      Anyway, I can understand why you were frustrated.


Let the discussion begin!