Lagaan Week: Top 5 Reasons the Cricket Match Wasn’t Fixed

Lagaan -- exactly 10 years since it released! -- goes deep into the psyche of the Indian masses, by bringing together two of the more potent components of Indian cultural life – the magic of Hindi cinema and the excitement of the game of cricket, told against the setting of a traditional Indian village. It is therefore a collage of the most powerful elements in Indian mass culture, a colorful and patriotic tale of the glories of Indian cricket, told through the medium of Hindi cinema.

So begins a discussion on the blend of cinema, cricket, and nationalism, in sport historian Boria Majumdar’s article, Cultural Resistance and Sport: Politics, Leisure and Colonialism – Lagaan – Invoking Lost History. I’d extend the role of cricket in the psyche of the Indian (and indeed, South Asian) masses, to including the potential of match fixing in cricket as perceived by the same masses.

Ever seen a game with wild swings in momentum and in which one team (or individual), seemingly with little or no chance to win, storms back and stifles the other to the extent one wonders how the other got into a winning position to begin with? Sure we have. It happens in every sport. It’s part of why they play the game. But then, what seems to rear its ugly head no matter whether or not one is a hardcore fanatic of a sport, is the potential for match fixing. Match fixing happens more often than we think, too. It’s nothing new, really. From this entry:

Since gambling pre-dates recorded history it comes as little surprise that evidence of match fixing is found throughout recorded history. The Ancient Olympics were almost constantly dealing with allegations of athletes accepting bribes to lose a competition and city-states which often tried to manipulate the outcome with large amounts of money. These activities went on despite the oath each athlete took to protect the integrity of the events and the severe punishment sometimes inflicted on those who were caught. Chariot racing was also dogged by race fixing throughout its history.

By the end of the 19th century gambling was illegal in most jurisdictions, but that did not stop its widespread practice.

It’s still pervasive, of course, and has immensely hurt the credibility and integrity of cricket in the last couple of decades. If you follow the sport, you know that players from India, Pakistan, and South Africa in particular have been notorious for their involvement. But that pertains to the present state of the game, where no matter what happens, fingers are pointed and doubts are instilled. What about back in late nineteenth-century Champaner?

So I have a confession to make. I've often been exposed to the ridiculous theory that the greatest match ever played between Bhuvan and his men and Captain Russell and his "boys" (in Russell's words, not mine) -- was perhaps (gasp) fixed.

Ludicrous! Here's why. Can you add any more for or against?

5. Gul Panag would never marry a cricket lover
How is this relevant? Well, in one of her latest blog posts (and rants) about how the people of India seem to elevate cricket to a religion, at the expense of other sport, she questions whether this is result of “a hangover from the British Raj.”

Now, discussion on the evolution of cricket in India under British Raj is beyond the scope of this post. (And if it weren’t, it’s very clear that Lagaan is remarkably accurate in some of its portrayals of that facet of Indian history, too, as Majumdar's essay illustrates.) But say Panag’s assumption is correct. It’s been over six decades since the Raj ended, and we’re still amid that hangover. The stronger the element consumed, the longer it takes to get over. The truer the reason for consumption, the longer its effects last. Can there be anything stronger and more justified than the quest to rid Champaner of the lagaan (tax)? I think not! After all, as the film reminds us repeatedly: Sach aur saahas hai jis ke mann mein, Ant mein jeet usi ki rahe. (He who carries truth in his soul is eventually victorious.)

4. The Umpiring (or Refereeing) wasn't unfair

Too often, bad (or biased) officiating determines the outcome in hotly contested sporting events. I clearly remember my biggest concern with cricket match in Lagaan. One sight of the umpires (or referees), and my fear was that they would favor the team that’d get the Raj more revenue. It's natural to think that way. But credit where credit’s due, these British umpires took pride in fairness! (Much like Elizabeth!) They were honest and humble enough to discuss extraordinary in-game situations not addressed in the rule book, before providing a verdict. Kudos, gentlemen!

3. Fiction was real
Cricket, like any other major world sport, has pockets of world regions that are known for skill sets or sport innovations specific to that region. No matter whether we associate India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka with excellent batting, bowling, and fielding, respectively, widely agreed-upon is that each of these cricketing powerhouses shares one characteristic in common – each can go unorthodox on an opponent in less time than it takes to read this sentence. We see this trend in the Lagaan XI too.

When Goli bowls (and has his bowling action validated by the not unfair umpiring), or when Guran stands to bat with an unusual stance, it’s not all for comic relief – the improvisation (which ir more reflexive than planned) has a definitive purpose. It only offers further evidence that this match was far from fixed!

2. Penalties for players in the bag were stricter than they are today
Recent match fixing scandals in cricket have led to bans of four, six, or even ten years. Isn’t each of those – heck, probably even a life ban -- less punitive than what Lakha almost had to face for his treachery? I rest my case. :D

1. It rained immediately following the match!
Two things at the core of Lagaan, and to which we must allude in every discussion on the film:
  1. Water; and
  2. The Supernatural force(s).

Sure, destiny is, by definition, predetermined. But we’re talking of mere mortals here. How can *anyone* other than a supernatural force fix the time to send all that rain, after all that time without rain, and with all that drama? Good God! No?

There you have it. I hope this helps silence the critics who deny Bhuvan and his Lagaan XI the glory that comes deservedly with ridding a village of unjustly imposed taxes.

It's only fair that we ALL acknowledge the match wasn't fixed.

It was just beautifully scripted.


dunkdaft said...

De Bhaiyaaaa....

Happy 10th Anniversary tBF.

Point 4. Right on.
Not like typical [many] such movies where Angrez had been portrayed [always] supportive to their counterparts.

What Ideas you come up one by one yaar. Mwah.

Shell said...

Yay! Happy Lagaan week! I totally attribute this film as one of the reasons I've fallen in love with cricket, and anyone who dares not give Bhuvan and the gang their justified glory can suck it! LOL!

Amy said...

Ah first foray into the world of Hindi cinema all those years ago, and I realize now how much I owe to Aamir Khan. Had I seen any SRK films pre-Lagaan, I not only would not be a fan of his but would have sworn off Indian films before giving them their due (just to clarify, I adore SRK films, even those made prior to DDLJ...once I acquired the taste I've found them hard to resist). But Lagaan and Aamir made it all happen for me and I am eternally grateful. Enjoyed your insight, as always, tBF! Maybe someday I'll understand cricket enough to be able to talk the talk!

hannah said...

Great! It's Lagaan week again... Been missing you, tBF! Enjoyed your post thoroughly. Am a novice to cricket and understand much less how it can be fixed but still had a good laugh at all the points you brought up.
Even if the match wasn't fixed, I think the rain was!!! Read all about it in 'The Spirit of Lagaan'...
Cheers to AKP who's also celebrating 10 years!

theBollywoodFan said...

Darshit: Thank you bhai, and to you too! Yes, it was good to see some Angrez as catalysts for justice, too. We see it in Rang De Basanti as well. Of course, the other argument might be that they're token characters, but then, people will see in them what they want to.

I hope you've been enjoying the 10th anniversary of Lagaan as much as I have, really. I can't believe it trended in India that day. I guess we can say we had some stake in it. ;)

theBollywoodFan said...

Shell: I get from some of your tweets from the past couple months that you were well aware of the goings on of this past IPL season. That means Bhuvan did the trick! Yes..and since you know me by now...they do deserve some credit for making a non-cricket film so cricket-friendly (and quite accurate historically, too).

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Amy! It's quite remarkable that for so many, like you, Lagaan was the first foray into Hindi cinema. More remarkable is that most agree on its quality and entertainment value. I want to say that as a fan of Hindi film, that's very satisfying. But the truth is, Lagaan played a similar role in my fandom too. Just when I had about given up on Hindi films as lacking substance and production values, out comes this film I had to be forced to see. (Would you believe it? I credit my sister there. :) It (almost :D) changed my life!

Thank you very much for your comment. And if you're truly up to talk the talk, just check out some cricket highlights on YouTube. Lagaan as background material would suffice ;) Enjoy!

theBollywoodFan said...

Hannah the Lagaan Week alumna! Thank you for stopping by and thank you for your comment! Glad you enjoyed the post. :) How are you? Yes, I must admit to being caught in this web of sometimes (okay, often, LOL) treating Lagaan as non-fiction. It must stop, I know!

Cheers to AKP, absolutely! I hope we get more films from the production house, but it's perhaps unfair to complain of quantity as long as the quality of cinema is maintained. We'll be in touch.