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