...they are among the most active villagers who take it upon themselves to ensure the village is always bustling with activity. It is their enthusiasm for films and the life they represent, that keeps the conversation going.
A big thank you to everyone who took time to contribute specifically to this post! A very special note of thanks to Katherine G. in Atlanta, Georgia. This post was her idea, and without her help (and Joanna's), it would certainly not have been possible. We begin with Katherine's notes on Lagaan, then (you might recall her excellent post on Rang De Basanti (2006) in April):
My fondness for Bollywood films began as a young bride when I married into my husband’s family some 20 years ago. Since my mother-in-law was from Kashmir, she would rent the latest Bollywood releases for us to watch together. The first time I saw Lagaan with her, I thought it was an absolutely wonderful story of good guy versus the establishment (the British). I was enthralled by the music, especially the song Chale Chalo.
Aamir Khan’s Bhuvan is one of the most endearing film characters in my memory. Bhuvan spots injustice and courageously decides to commit his village to an almost impossible task of winning a cricket match with the British. Knowing that losing this match would cause grave consequences for his fellow villagers, he takes responsibility to build a determined group of men into a cricket team. What follows is a spirited game of wills, innocence versus arrogance. Oh, what a game it is!
Chekhov, from San Antonio, Texas, reminds us that cinema, being so close to life, carries the distinction of being one of the most effective media through which we can all learn (to learn) so much! Between this and Joanna's post yesterday, I realize I picked the wrong major and electives in college :'(
During my second year at the university when I was 19, I took an Indian Anthropology course. As could be expected, the professor felt the need to include Bollywood films in order to help us better understand Indian culture. "Lagaan" was the first film we screened, and my first full Bollywood film ever. Our professor showed us cultural themes such as colonialism, imperialism, Hinduism, the caste system, Sikhism, etc. It took us weeks to get through the film, only watching ten to twenty minutes at a time. My classmates and I cheered for Bhuvan's triumphs, and held our breath through the cricket match. We giggled through the love story between Bhuvan and Gauri, and we even attempted the dances ourselves. If a classmate missed a class, we would call them just to tell them what had happened in the movie.
While Lagaan is an important landmark in Bollywood for its themes, nominations, and acceptance in the West, it is important to me personally for how it enlightened me. Despite having grown up in a largely Indian community in Washington DC, I had seldom developed much interest in India. After this film, I developed a deep appreciation for Indian culture, as well as for Bollywood. I am now considering learning Hindi in graduate school, and pursuing interests in that direction. For me, it can truly be said that Lagaan changed my perception of India, as well as the course of my life.
Haritas2 from Karnataka, India, rightfully focuses on the selection of then-rookie actress Gracy Singh as one of the more pivotal casting decisions. I wouldn't disagree. (Did you know Nandita Das had also auditioned for the role of Gauri? (Per page 62 of the Bhatkal book cited here.))
It can only be Aamir Khan who has the audacity to chose such a theme for the movie, such a simple yet great star cast. I would like to add light on his selection of Gracy Singh...no one would have blamed him for selecting a star actress like Kajol or Rani Mukerjee. Instead, he trusted a television actress with a massive project. In retrospect, nobody would have given the feel good 'gaon ki chhori' (village belle) freshness to the movie. It looked as if the role was tailor made for her!
Meanwhile, Creekbeds in Wisconsin sums up rather well the experience of revisiting the film:
Lagaan started me out on my love affair with Hindi movies. It was one of the first Bollywood movies I ever saw. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it didn’t take me long to fall in love with it. I love it for its exuberance, innocence, panoramic vistas and amazing song and dance numbers. I fell in love with Bhuvan and his ragtag team, a delightful, but mostly inept bunch. Each time I watch it, it’s like having a reunion with a beloved family member. Just some of the reasons why ‘Lagaan’ left an indelible impression on me, and it will always have a special place in my heart.An 'inept' bunch indeed. How else could one describe a team that learns to field with the help of hens? =)
Tabby in London, England, notes that Bhuvan's ability to make the audience relate to him and his situation is what makes the story of the victory of the underdog seem so convincing.
An Oscar-award worthy performance by Aamir. He naturally has a huge on-screen presence, which made Bhuvan truly came alive. His character, style, approach, and mannerisms made the character well-rounded. Bhuvan could have been any villager in any remote village in India. The viewer isn't distracted by the grandeur of the setting or the magnitude of the challenge because of its excellent storyline. By the end the viewer is at the edge of his seat, consistently championing the underdogs - will they or won't they win? Bhuvan's victory is the viewers victory in equal measure. Long live the underdog!
Pushker in Lucknow, India, says what a lot of us truly believe -- that the credibility that Aamir lends to his profession and to the Hindi film industry, through films such as Lagaan, is what truly distinguishes him from his peers and into a league of his own. It is also what helps twenty-first century Hindi cinema stand out as a force to appreciate.
Aamir Khan has been a rare phenomenon in the Indian film industry. He has singlehandedly given respectability to Bollywood commercial cinema in the eyes of audiences from other parts of he world. For me, NRI-focused movies don't compare with his movies when it comes to appreciation and respect generated worldwide. Lagaan is the movie which started the trend. First and foremost, it is a path-breaking movie as far Indian film industry is concerned. It's the first pure crossover film which does not compromise on the essence of India. Its authenticity is not something we take for granted in Indian film.
From the first frame until the last, it is absolutely brilliantly crafted and directed. You almost feel part of the past. What doesn't it have? The sound is pure Indian, and songs are the most authentic. Acting, again, is top-notch, from leading actors to every minor character. The sets and locations give an authentic view of late 19th century India. All in all, a milestone in the annals of Indian Cinema, and one that has started to revive contemporary cinema, challenging the subpar standards of filmmaking that was the norm for so long.
Readers: If you have Lagaan-related stories you'd like to share, within context of the question in the title to this post, please add a comment! (I'm guessing it's one of those movies we all distinctly remember seeing, perhaps with specific people, or at a specific venue.)