Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lagaan: Once Upon a TIme in India!

An Indian modern classic "Lagaan", Nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at Oscars 2002, shows India during the Victorian Age, taking us back to 1893. The movie centers on the village of Champaner, which is controlled by a cantonment of British soldiers and their mustache-twirling Captain, Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne). Every year the villagers are required to pay a lagaan, or land tax (a form of taxation that the villagers have to pay to their Kings, who in turn pays the British for protection against invading forces and rivals from other Kings); this year there has been no rain and little crop yield. Young, rebellious Bhuvan (Aamir Khan, who also produced the film) takes a wager proposed by Russell: if, in three months' time, the villagers defeat the soldiers in a game of cricket, they will be excused from the tax for three years. On the other hand, if they fail, they must pay three times the normal tax and so, probably starve. The movie revolves around how Bhuvan convinces the villagers and creates a team of 11 to play against the team of Andrew Russell. Russell's kind-hearted sister Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley) opts to secretly help the Champaner team with teaching them the game, and even hopes to play the field between the two sides.

The middle of the film focuses on two plot strands - the local team's haphazard preparation for the match aided by Russell's sympathetic sister Elizabeth, and the romantic triangle that develops between Bhuvan, Elizabeth and Gauri(Gracy Singh), the local girl smitten since childhood with Bhuvan.

Director Ashutosh Gowariker captures the beauty and simplicity of rural life in India at the turn of the century. The vast landscapes and majestic palaces make for enchanting settings to tell the story. As a musical, the film also captivates with well choreographed dances.

Fair warning--this is Bollywood cinema, so there are certain things you can expect up front. First: the film is long. Second: there will be a good amount of singing. Yes, there are a number of songs involved, but they're not bad. In fact, Bollywood musical or not, this is a decent flick. The music by A.R. Rahman, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, takes the movie up a notch.

A very enjoyable and entertaining flick.