Guest post: On Faith and Truth, and Spirituality in Lagaan

Wrapping up Lagaan Week with this post, and I hope you've enjoyed this series as much as I have. A special note of thanks to everyone who contributed in the spirit of Lagaandom -- it wouldn't have happened without you. Thank you! A complete list of posts from this week is available here. As always, a link to the most recent Lagaan Week archive will continue to be available via the Lagaan button in the sidebar to the right.

It's a privilege, now, to feature this post written by Hannah in beautiful Port Louis, Mauritius. Hannah is a Montessori teacher who's been running her own preschool since 1995. No teacher is effective without being an effective student, and her focus to learn from what she does means her fandom of Bollywood has her on a journey to learn about Indian culture through the arts.

She follows some Indian writers, has taken up a Bollywood dance class, and is even on a quest to learn Hindi. It was this quest to learn the language, especially through film songs, that led her to this blog. She enjoys the Bollywood blogosphere particularly because she can discuss films with fellow lovers of Hindi cinema. Her favorite actor is Aamir Khan, and favorite actress, Kajol.

Please join me in thanking Hannah for sharing the story of her foray into Hindi cinema. Let's continue to welcome her to the extended Bollywood blogosphere family, and for summing up what the core message of Lagaan is all about with a splendid analysis. Thank you, Hannah!


Lagaan has so many aspects that appeal to different types of audiences. I never tire of watching it. My only regret is that I have not been able to watch Lagaan in a theater, because at the time of its release, I was not into Bollywood at all. A little over two years now, my love story with Bollywood began with another Ashutosh Gowariker film, Jodha Akbar (2008). A. R. Rahman’s music swept me off my feet and from then on, I avidly explored this new world with an eagerness to learn that I thought I did not possess any more!

Last year, I started reading Indian authors in an attempt to learn more about India and Indian culture. My dream now is to visit India, but as I cannot travel at this time, I dived into ‘A Suitable Boy’ as a way to discover India without leaving home. (I’d be grateful to any of you who could recommend good books that would fulfill this purpose.)

My first Aamir Khan film was Fanaa (2006), followed by Rang de Basanti (2006). By then, I was hooked on AK and was constantly on the lookout for his films. I read reviews of Lagaan and knew I had to get the film. Which I finally did, last year! I have lost count of how many times I have watched it since, and would like to share with you on one particular aspect that touched me most – spirituality. (It's a dimension I find lacking in today’s Hollywood films.)

In the town in which I live, there is a temple on a hill side. Every time I see it, especially at night, I visualize myself in Champaner!

The presence of the temple in the film is a constant reminder of its religious/spiritual aspect. As Bhuvan starts building his team with the help of Tipu, he gets his first follower, Bagha, when the ball hits the bell of the temple.

Later in the film, as Elizabeth starts to fall in love with Bhuvan, we see her interest and fascination with the Hindu religious rites. The temple is dedicated to Radha and Krishna, and Elizabeth asks Bhuvan about them, thinking they are a couple. Bhuvan’s explanation is a subtle hint then that eventually Elizabeth would make Radha’s story hers.

The temple’s steps are also the testing ground for Lakha when he asks Bhuvan to take him in the team. On those same steps, Lakha will also run for his life when his treachery is discovered. He will then seek refuge in the temple as the villagers pounding at the door are claiming his life.

Beyond the mere presence of the temple throughout the film, there is also the main character’s personification of not just a hero, but a savior! Bhuvan is the one who is going to free them from the oppressor. Yet he is not some messiah come from elsewhere. He is just a farmer in Champaner. Maybe because he is one of them, the villagers will find it hard to believe in him. They dismiss him as being young and brash. In the face of adversity – at the beginning, no one in the village supports him – he keeps on believing that he made the right decision in taking up the challenge from Capt. Russell. He convincingly manages to rally a team around him, and with the help of Elizabeth, they learn the game well enough to be able to give the English “a tough fight”.

But Bhuvan’s efforts are undermined by the presence of a traitor among them. When Lakha’s deception is uncovered, Bhuvan will be the one who “saves” him from a mob ready to lynch him. This scene takes place in the temple. Bhuvan shows extraordinary magnanimity in giving Lakha a second chance. It is even more significant because the object of Lakha’s hatred is Bhuvan himself yet he pushes all personal considerations aside for the greater good of the villagers and of the whole province. Bhuvan shows divine attributes of mercy and forgiveness.

Bhuvan is also the one who will fight the injustice of the caste system by insisting on the inclusion of Kachra in the team. The team was already composed of Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs all come together against their common enemy. But it seems that the caste system was what would ultimately divide them. This time, Bhuvan will even go against the headman, who usually has the last word on matters affecting the village. Again, Bhuvan uses arguments that will convince them of the absurdity of this belief. I find this scene particularly touching when Kachra will look at Bhuvan with tears of gratitude as he stands before them with his dignity restored for the first time.

What is also striking in Bhuvan’s character is his humility. He is humble enough to receive help from a Britisher, and a woman on top of that. He displays true humility but refuses to humiliate himself by asking for forgiveness from the English as the other villagers suggest when they go to seek the Raja’s help. “I’ll gladly receive 100 lashes but I will not ask for forgiveness,” he says. Loss of humility is often the downfall of leaders. Bhuvan’s humility is in sharp contrast with Capt. Russell’s attitude, who, so full of himself, fails to convince Elizabeth not to "go against her own brother." But Bhuvan’s humility is ultimately expressed when he joins in the song ‘O Paalan haare’ (view at this YouTube link) with the women praying in the temple:

Oh nurturant Lord,
Beyond description and beyond all
Without you, we have no one
Ease our difficulties, oh God
Without you, we have no one
You are our only supporter
You are our only protector
Without you, we have no one

Bhuvan then adds:

If you will listen, Lord, I will make a plea
Give patience to sorrowful people

So that they will never give in to the sorrow

Provide the powerless with protection

So that the powerless can remain happy

Provide your disciples with strength

Significantly, the team and the whole village joins in the song/prayer, regardless of their religion and perhaps this is the most striking spiritual message of the film: a total surrender to God. Isn’t that the basic meaning of faith in any religion? Wars and violence waged in the name of religion are indeed senseless when seen in this light. True believers can indeed continuously strive to live together in peace.

At the end of the film, those who are pure of heart win, and justice prevails. Even though this does not reflect what usually happens in real life, Lagaan invites us to hope, albeit for a fleeting moment, for a better world. That is one of the very reasons why good movies, in general, are so popular – because they allow us to dream and to aspire for something better…


Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Great and extremely insightful post Hannah- thanks! Thank you TBF for making the week happen. Cheers!

triShie said...

@Hannah: thanks for the indepth and passionate post!! i love Aamir Khan too! my first film of him was Ghajini. truly life changing! and gosh, wasn't he awesome in Fanaa? :)

@TBF: it's been a wonderful week. i'm way behind (only got to watching Lagaan last weekend) but your Lagaan Week here has been thoroughly exciting and insightful! truly a fan of this blog!! :)

hannah said...

@Shweta: Thx for your kind comment. It's very encouraging. Indeed thx to tbf for his very rich blog!
@ triShie: I thought I was a babe in Bollywood!! Join in the bollywood buffs club! The more the merrier...

dunkdaft said...

Love your post Hannah!
I have been to the village where movie was shot. Wish that temple would have been there, forever, it could make it a must visit place for film lovers.

oh, as I am reading this, someone in next apartment, is playing Radha kaise na jale... :)

Filmbuff said...

Interesting and insightful post Hannah. As TBF has said, welcome to the world of bolly bloggers. TBF, I am a bit late into your lagaan week. But hope to catch up. As you know, I have been busy enjoying all the oldies I collected on my recent visit to India. I am currently watching Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon. Absolutely delightful movie especially the songs - OMG - each one more melodious than the other. I guess this is not surprising as it is a Nazir Hussein Movie! Hope you are doing well.


ajnabi said...

Beautiful post, Hannah (and a fitting way to wrap up Lagaan Week, tBF, since so many foreign viewers [and you!] came to Bollywood through the film). I hope you'll decide to write more of your thoughts on Hindi films in the future--maybe on a blog of your own? :-) My mother's a Montessori teacher, and I really think it encourages a lifelong intellectual curiosity such as the one you've evidenced here.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mansi said...

I Just came across your blog today. I could so relate to your thoughts on Wake Up Sid! Drop by sometime at my page
It's a very new initiative. I'm trying to write all about movies. I love Bollywood. My brother is a die-hard Hollywood fanatic. So ours is a joint effort.

It'd be great to hear from you on my blog. Any suggestions, feedback, thoughts, write.


hannah said...

@dunkdaft: Thx! Please don't make me jealous...I've yet to visit India! But somehow, I am more keen on visiting Ladakh (after watching 3i!) than the Lagaan location... I'm looking forward to dance to Radha kaise na jale as my bollywood dance teacher has promised to teach us dandiya soon!!
@filmbuff: Thx for your welcome. There is still so much for me to learn and discover in the bolly bloggers world!
@ajnabi: Thx for your kind words and encouragement. I take it as a compliment that you think it is my Montessori background that makes me open to new things. I do believe it is one of the best methods of education.

dunkdaft said...

@Hannah Ah, Ladakh ! being in India, I still haven't been to that magical place. Leave 3i, my lovestory with Ladakh started from gorgeous Dil Se... must see for its wonderful cinematography.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi, all, and as always, thank you for your comments!

Shweta: No, thank *you*! :)

triShie: Why, thank you so much for your kind words! If you liked Lagaan, I hope you get a chance to check out some of the posts from the Lagaan Weeks past. Do visit again, I hope to blog more in the coming months.

Hannah: Nice profile pic ;) Thank you again for this great article. We tend to overlook a lot of what you mention, and important reminders in any form are always welcome. Please also see link in comment to dunkdaft below, you'll definitely enjoy his post from last year.

theBollywoodFan said...

dunkdaft: Good timing, so did you go next-door and dance along? ;) I still absolutely enjoy your fabulous Lagaan Week post from last year, thanks again so putting so much work and effort into it, it offers a very neat and unique perspective.

Filmbuff: Always great to hear from you, and I can imagine you're having fun with those oldies! Thanks for the recommendation, I'll try checking out the songs to 'Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon' to begin with.

theBollywoodFan said...

Ajnabi: Thanks so much. Most definitely, I'd almost given up (okay, I had given up, LOL) on Bollywood making a top-quality product presentable to everyone. Glad it was rubbished by Lagaan, and we have Ashutosh Gowariker, as much as anyone, to thank for it.

Mansi: Thank you so much, I'll definitely check out your blog soon! I wish my sibling would care to write about films, too. Instead, she only took me along (more insisted, really) to watch Lagaan nine years ago. And look at where it brought us all! :D

theBollywoodFan said...

Hannah and dunkdaft: Speaking of Ladakh, I have a music recommendation for you: 'Ladakh - In Search of Buddha' by Rahul Sharma. It embodies the mysticism visual portrayals of Ladakh in 3i and especially Dil Se personify, and I hope you're able to enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Lagaan is a pure masterpiece!!! Never a film has been so always watched with such enthusiasm in my family, especially my mother. I stopped counting. lol. Fanaa was also my first film of Aamir Khan and then RDB. Then all the others in the collection AK. It's always a pleasure to read your blog BWF! I take this opportunity to wish you an enjoyable season and a great year ahead!
Insha Allah!

Warm greetings from a cold south of France! :)


theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you Jamila! Hope you had a great 2010 and wish you an even better 2011, IA! We'll be in touch, sorry I've been out of touch for so long.