FRAMING MOVIES: Take Thirty: Lagaan (2001)

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The historical film may not be the most common genre in Bollywood nowadays, but with no doubt Lagaan is a fantastic film that deserves all our attention. It was directed in 2001 by Ashutosh Gowariker, who seems to enjoy historical movies, as he later made the epic Jodhaa Akbar (2008) and his next project will be based in the Indus Valley Civilisation. The film stars Aamir Khan in the lead role, as well as he also was one of the producers.


The movie is set in 1861 and narrates the story of the inhabitants of a small farming village. Under the British rule, farmers are forced to give a part of their crop in order to pay the tax called lagaan. After a long period of drought they are unable to pay so they try to negotiate with the British, but the arrogance of the British Captain Russell and the pride of the villager Bhuvan leads to a new arrangement. If the villagers beat the British in a game of cricket Russell will cancel the payment of taxes of the whole province. However, if the British win they will have to pay three times the normal amount of taxes. Bhuvan accepts the deal, but he will have to overcome the opposition of most of the villagers if he wants to have any chance to win, as what is at stake is not only the tax but the continuity of the British rule.

Aamir Khan constructs a complex character. Bhuvan is a common young man, he respects his mother and aspires to have a family and live on his land. But when his dream is threatened by the British greed and his dignity is despised, he does not hesitate to rebel against injustice.  Lagaan is a tribute to all those anonymous heroes that fight against injustice not looking for success or notoriety but just because is the right thing to do. The film also shows the power of unity against the oppressor. Villagers belonging to different religions and castes overcome their differences and join forces in order to defeat the enemy.


One of the best elements of Lagaan is its acclaimed soundtrack. Composed by A.R. Rahman (long before Slumdog Millionaire) and with lyrics by Javed Akhtar, songs create the appropriate atmosphere for the story to develop. With a careful attention to locations and rigorous costumes the film takes the spectator to India in 1861. The majestic voice of legendary Amitabh Bachchan as the narrator is the final ingredient that turns Lagaan into an epic piece.

Lagaan was a success, both in the box-office and the critical sphere. The film won eight National Film Awards and nine Filmfare Awards, and became the third Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film after Mother India (1957) and Salaam Bombay! (1988). Although it did not win, the nomination helped Indian cinema to become more visible around the world, as Lagaan was dubbed into languages such as Italian and Spanish.


After having watched many Bollywood films, Lagaan remains as one of the most special for me. In a time when I had no idea of Hindi and my English was far from being perfect, Lagaan was the first film I watched. Although the experience was not complete due to the fact that I watched it dubbed into Spanish, this film opened the door to many others and made me fall in love with Indian cinema. In my opinion the greatness of Lagaan is that, at least partly thanks to its nomination to The Oscars, the film reached new audiences that came into contact with Bollywood for the first time.

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