Guest post: You had me at Ghanan Ghanan

I am privileged to have my friend Joanna write this post. Joanna lives in central Ohio with her husband, three kids (ages fourteen, eight, and six) and their two dogs. She is an Early Intervention Specialist, and works with children (up to age three) with developmental disabilities.

An Aamir Khan fan, she has been an active participant at the Aamir and Lagaan DVD blogs since their inception in 2007, and considers herself in good company among the wonderful Hindi film fans with whom she has had the pleasure of interacting through these and other sites.
Her journey with Hindi cinema began with Lagaan, three years ago. Please join me in thanking Joanna for sharing with us such wonderful insight!


“Parched eyes scan the sky…”

This was the Muhurat shot for Lagaan, and I suppose it can also be considered the Muhurat for my maiden voyage into Hindi cinema.

I had gone back to college to finish my degree in the summer of 2006, and fatefully enrolled in a Global Comparative Studies course. Part of the course was a unit on Lagaan. The instructor explained that it was an Indian (“Bollywood”) film about a cricket game played between British soldiers and local villagers during the late 1800s. Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive (frankly, it sounded a little boring). But ready or not, I was prepared to spend the next two class sessions watching this film.

Needless to say, I was completely blown away. It was a beautiful and powerful epic, which unbeknownst to me at the time, would have a huge impact on my life. In the spirit of Jerry Maguire (1996), I’d say: “You had me at Ghanan Ghanan.”

The class section on Lagaan was concentrated on drawing parallels between the film and how the evolution of Indian cricket symbolized the struggle against the British Raj. As part of an assignment in the Lagaan unit, we were to explore the ways in which Lagaan might both reproduce and subvert the “erotics of nationhood” of Indian cricket using a series of articles written on the subject.

Conflict and resistance are easily considered to be the main themes in Lagaan. The timeless struggle between oppressors and the oppressed is nothing new. However, if we were to look deeper into the symbols of nationalism, feelings of self-worth (both collective and individual), and conflict, we may get a better understanding of what the film means in terms of indigenous struggle. Lagaan reproduces and subverts the typical “erotics of nationhood” of Indian cricket, in regards to the roles of gender and tradition of the game, and by default, the struggle it represents.

According to Arjun Appadurai in his article, “Playing with Modernity: The Decolonization of Indian Cricket,” he defines the “erotics of nationhood” of Indian cricket as the link between gender, nation, fantasy, and bodily excitement to the game itself (Appadurai, 110). Now that cricket has come to be identified “with ‘Indian’ skill, ‘Indian’ guts, ‘Indian’ team spirit, and ‘Indian’ victories, the bodily pleasure that is at the core of the male viewing experience is simultaneously part of the erotics of nationhood” (Appadurai, 111).

There are several scenes in Lagaan that illustrate the intensity of this nationalistic ideology. Most people might focus on the scenes in the latter part of the film, during the cricket match, as that would be the most obvious. However, I found many scenes that I felt were more of a powerful statement to the “us against them” paradigm so clearly laid out in Boria Majumdar’s article, “Cultural Resistance and Sport: Politics, Leisure and Colonialism–Lagaan–Invoking lost History.” In his article, Majumdar says that the reality of beating the British at their own game goes deeper “...into certain ideas of self-cultivation, manliness and self-worth. Cricket was played not simply to facilitate social mobility. Rather the game became a mirror which the Indian identity assessed itself, and in this respect the appropriation of European sports by the Indians can be seen as early breeding grounds for nationalism” (Majumdar, 40). There are three scenes in Lagaan which I found to illustrate these concepts most profoundly.

The first scene is when the villagers go to the Cantonment to ask the Raja-ji to relieve them of this year’s double lagaan, and Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) and Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne) have a confrontation that leads to the fateful cricket match. The archetypal good versus evil takes hold from this point. One asks the other to stand, but both stare each other down as Captain Russell keeps raising the stakes so that Bhuvan cannot refuse. It can be argued that Bhuvan accepted the challenge out of bravado, and I will not dispute this. But it goes deeper than mere machismo. Bhuvan feels he is not only fighting for his pride, but for the very lives of the people in the village. It is at this point that he steps into the role of nationalistic rebel. (This post has more on the scene.)

The second scene is just after Bhuvan convinces the team to let Kachra (Aditya Lakhia), the untouchable, play on the team. The villagers turn around to see Captain Russell and his men watching them. Bhuvan stands and they maintain direct eye contact... the rest of Bhuvan's team lines up behind him, side-by-side, and all men stand together with their arms crossed and facing the British soldiers. To me, this was a pivotal scene and one which, paired with a powerful background score (“Re Bhaiyya Chhoote Lagaan” -- listen to it below), set the stage for the upcoming “battle” and illustrated how the once unwilling participants were now united and committed to fight.

The final scene that I want to mention actually happens during the cricket match. (Okay, I had to throw one in.) It is the scene in which Bhuvan and Deva Singh Sodhi (Pradeep Rawat) take the field together as first batters. They walk towards the British team without fear and with firm resolve evident on their faces. As I watched them kneel down in unison to pick up a pinch of earth and touch it to their chests, I was struck with another powerful moment of solidarity, unity, and strength.

There were so many moments in Lagaan that struck me at my core, and I found myself unable to get that very special film out of my head. It was like nothing I had seen before. So, I bought the DVD, found a comfortable spot on my sofa, and prepared to be spellbound once again. This time, my then five year-old son joined me. The film worked its magic on my little boy and connected with him on a level that we never could have imagined.

There is a special twist to this part of the story. You see, my middle son has mild Autism. At the time, he had limited verbal ability. However, after watching Lagaan a few times, he tried to sing in Hindi. His favorites songs were (in his words): the “Rain song” (Ghanan Ghanan), the “Apni Hai song” (Mitwa), and the “Yellow Shirt song” (Radha Kaise na Jale). In the spirit of taking a child’s lead, we would encourage him to sing “Chale Chalo” to help him pronounce his “L” sounds. It was a success! I bet Director Ashutosh Gowariker and Aamir Khan never predicted that Lagaan would be used for speech therapy.

I am happy to report that my son is doing well, and has made unbelievable strides. Somehow, I feel that Lagaan had awakened something special in my little boy--and perhaps in all of us as well.

“He who has truth and courage in his heart, is who wins in the end.” (Mitwa)

I want to join all the fans of this wonderful film in celebrating its 8th anniversary. Re Bhaiyya...Chhoote Lagaan!


  1. Appadurai. “Playing with Modernity: The Decolonization of Indian Cricket
  2. Majumdar. “Cultural Resistance and Sport: Politics, Leisure, and Colonialism—Lagaan—Invoking Lost History
  3. Mannathukkaren. “Subalterns, Cricket and the ‘Nation’
  4. Farred. “The Double Temporality of Lagaan: Cultural Struggle and Postcolonialism


Beth said...

What a great idea for a post! Joanna, thank you for such a thoughtful piece (and as a librarian/university staff, I LOVE your references!)

ginak said...

hey Jo and TBF great idea that...and nice write up Joanna and your children are simply wonderful...that part about how it touched your son is really heartwarming and also the symbolism you bring in to it is nice...i liked the scene of them both bending down and touching the earth...very touching and inspiring. great effort. Thank you.

shell said...

What a wonderful post Joanna. I love hearing how people were introduced to this magnificent movie industry. We find inspiration in the most amazing places sometimes don't we, and children are much more open to new ideas than the average adult. My son's favorite song is Om Shanti Om (really Deewangi Deewangi) and i smile everytime he asks for it.

Melanie said...

Joanna, this is great! It's always really interesting to get an academic take on Hindi films, especially a film like Lagaan that does have so much cultural depth to it. I studied Hindi films in University also, actually, but sadly we didn't cover Lagaan. (Too long for class, haha... we did however, study such gems as Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, and Dhoom 2. I think my professor had a crush on Hrithik Roshan.)

Anyway, great job!! Hope to see more posts from you now!

Darshit said...

What a delightful read ! Love it just loved it. So surprised and glad that Lagaan did wonder for your boy. And by that, have u seen TZP? Would love to hear ur thoughts on that too.

Aline Khan said...

Wah Joanna!

What an insight into those masculine and also touching scenes from Lagaan!

And reading about how your son related to the film and its music literally gave me goosebumps...

Chale chalo, you need to keep writing. :-)

Arjavi said...

Great post Joanna! Aamir is really lucky to have people like you and TBF as his fans.

Joanna said...

Hi Beth,
Thank you so much for your reply! The articles we read were quite dense but very informative! I hope some of The BWF’s readers will be able to find copies and enjoy them!

Thanks for reading! I really enjoyed writing the post, and yes, there are many moments in Lagaan that have touched people on so many levels. I wonder if we should start using the mantra: “WWBD”- “What would Bhuvan do?” :-)

Yes! Inspiration can come in many forms and often when we least expect it. Looking back, there have been seemingly unimportant events that have occurred and set me on a path that has changed me forever. Sometimes, we just have to remember to be open to those experiences.
Also, “Om Shanti Om” is a really fun soundtrack! Definitely a kid-pleaser!

Thanks for stopping by! I would have loved to take an entire class on Hindi films. How fun!
P.S. Your professor isn’t the only one! ;-)

Thank you very much! We were so impressed by the effect Lagaan had on our little guy. As for “Taare Zameen Par,” we have the DVD set from India. It took a little ingenuity to get it to play on our TV (had to hook it to the laptop) but we eventually managed to solve the region coding issue. TZP is simply magical and since I work with young children with special needs, it touches me deeply. Inclusion is a subject close to my heart, and I am so grateful to Amol Gupte and Aamir Khan for making such a special film. Perhaps if The BollyWood Fan will have me, I’d love to write a post about TZP one of these days.

All the best,

Pushker said...

Joanna its a marvelous peace of writing.I am bowled all over.

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you all for your comments!

GinaK: Thank *you*!

Melanie: I'm with Joanna on being up for a course in which we all do nothing but discuss Hindi films!

Arjavi: Thanks for stopping by. I can't imagine the Hindi film industry over the last couple decades without Aamir. *We* are lucky to have him around :)

Joanna: Once again, thank you! Ref: a TZP post, please don't think twice!

Pushker: That's right!

Katayoun said...

Joanna, Thank you for your post. Great insights. I'm sure you topped the class. After all education is supposed to be life transforming. I'm sure your lecturer must have been pleased. It is nice to know the film we love so much has inspired so much academic literature and that we love not merely a film but a cultural performance. Last time I saw a film make so much noise in the cultural studies scene was when Pulp Fiction came out. I liked Lagaan best, but I am not sure if nationalism, erotic or not was the message I got. I thought the message was much wider than nationalism.

The effect of the movie on your son is amazing and, like Aline, reading about it game me goosebumps.

As a lecturer, I appreciated your references. If only some of my students were as diligent as you.

Thank you also to The BollywoodFan for this informative blog. First time for me here and I am just popping my head in. I will come again later when I have more time.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Thanks for posting.
All the best!

Joss said...

Hi Joanne

I really enjoyed reading your post on Lagaan. I also have taught children with special needs and also done some speech and language therapy. I wrote a paper on music and phonological awareness once, and I can see no block to the benefit that can be gained from music even if it is in Hindi. In fact, listening to the sounds of a foreign language might even encourage closer attention, when the words are dissociated from their meaning. Of course, the meaning is not hard to grasp when it is a Hindi film song.

I too have watched Hindi films with my son, starting when he was 10. In fact, these were the first adult or family films that he came across. Prior to this it had been all animations. Hindi films have made a brilliant bridge between the children's films and the occasional adult western film that he now watches. He was able to watch the Hindi films safe in the knowledge that there would be no kissing too! And he always feels safe with SRK films, as 'he only ever smells the girls'!

Joanna said...

Hi Arjavi,
And I think we are lucky to have Aamir! Through my interactions in the last two years on the Lagaan and Aamir Khan blog, I can now safely say that Aamir Khan fans truly represent the best that the world has to offer. I think that says a lot about the man himself.

Hey there Aline,
You know, in writing that piece, I had taken myself out of my comfort zone a little bit. Anyone who knows me well has heard me crack a joke or two at the expense of those on the planet who have a Y-chromosome. ;-) (Sorry BWF- it’s all in jest, I assure you!) There was also a portion of my paper that did explore the feminine elements of Lagaan and the historical relationship between women and cricket, the love triangle in the film, and Elizabeth’s role in helping the Lagaan XI achieve their goal, but if I hadn’t edited that out, you all would have been reading for hours!

Pushker Bhaiyya,
Thanks for reading! Was the “bowled over” part an intended pun? ;-)

Thank you so much for your comments. I agree with you in regards to the overt message delivered by Lagaan. If I had initally watched the film outside of a classroom setting without a syllabus to guide how I was to view the film, nationalism would not have been the first thing that would have come to mind. I think if I can take away the academic portion, it’s simply a heartwarming story of the underdog overcoming enormous obstacles and learning volumes along the way.

I think Lagaan (both the actual film and the back story of its arduous journey onto celluloid—I highly recommend the book “The Spirit of Lagaan” by Satyajit Bhatkal if you haven’t yet read it--) shows all the magnificent things that can be accomplished when we put our differences aside and work towards a common goal.

Finally, I want to give a big thank you to The BollyWood Fan for allowing me to be a part of his "Lagaan Week" celebration. This film is so special to me and I have relished in the this opportunity to pay homage to this brilliant piece of Hindi Cinema.


theBollywoodFan said...

Katayoun: Welcome to the blog, and thank you very much for your visit and comment! Do stop by again. I'm with Joanna completely in recommending the book by Bhatkal!

Adab Sita-ji: As always, suhkriya for visiting :)

Joss: That's a great way to describe the appeal of Hindi film!

Anu said...

Wonderful post, Joanna! Very incisive and also heartwarming... :)
Like others have said, it was touching to read about the impact of Lagaan on your son. I wish him all the best for everything in life!

You have very aptly described the pivotal scenes in the film.

Thanks for the citations! And thanks for being such a great fan of Aamir!

Joanna said...

Hi Sita-ji,
Thank you so much for reading!

Wow! It’s great to meet someone else in the field! What you say about words being easier to focus on when they disassociated from their meaning makes sense. In my job, we often encourage parents to get their kids involved in some sort of music classes in addition to speech and language therapy, as kids especially seem to be wired to be more attentive to music. I also find myself “singing” words to them, and it works well. I’d love to read your paper someday. It sounds really interesting!

All the best~

Kristine said...

Thanks for the lovely article, Joana. It was a great pleasure reading it.

Take care

Joanna said...

Thank you Kristine,
I’m so glad you enjoyed it. And really, the pleasure was all mine. I am so honored to be a part of the Lagaan Week anniversary here on the Bollywoodfan’s blog!

Hi Anu,
Thanks so much for reading, and thank you for your kind wishes! I am more than happy to share our story with others, especially if it can in any way bring a smile to their hearts! Our little boy brings us so much joy, and it’s only fitting that we try to reach out and make this world a little smaller by giving a little bit of ourselves.

Also, there is definitely no need to thank me for being a fan of Aamir. :-) I have come to admire him not only as an actor/director/producer, but also for what I have come to understand of him as a person. I believe that Aamir shares many qualities with our dear Bhuvan, so he has quite easily earned my respect and support.

All the best,