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Lagaan: weekend movie

I swear, if somebody had told me that I would absolutely love a nearly four-hour-long Bollywood musical — in Hindi — about the game of cricket … I’d have thought they were crazy.

But somebody must have told me that years ago and I must have believed them. Because Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India is an old favorite.

Oh. Well. And there’s one little thing I didn’t mention about it. A lagaan is a tax. And Lagaan the movie is about a glorious tax revolt. And, without violence, it’s about a war against tyrants.

The setup: It’s 1893, during the English Raj. Each year poor farmers are expected to deliver a percentage of their grain to support the local raja and the British soldiers of the nearby cantonment. This year, out of spite, Captain Russell, commander of the forces, decrees that the tax will be doubled.

But there’s a drought. A double tax will kill the people. When the villagers of Champaner plead with Russell to reduce the burden, he offers them a wager: play a cricket match with his men. If the villagers — who’ve barely even seen a game of cricket before — win, he’ll cancel the lagaan for the next three years for the entire province. However, if they lose, they’ll have to pay triple lagaan.

Russell forces the decision on Bhuvan, a hotheaded “young Turk” of the village. Bhuvan is one of the few who openly defies authority; Russell aims to bring him down. Bhuvan accepts the wager, putting the fate of everyone on his own head.

There are also Complications in the form of a gentle love triangle between Bhuvan (the detectable Aamir Khan) and the equally delectable Gracy Singh and Rachel Shelley (who plays Russell’s compassionate and defiant sister).

Lagaan has been hard to get on Netflix for the last couple of years. I finally got it again and still loved it — even though the climactic cricket match remains as mysterious to me as Other People’s Religions.

You can watch the whole movie on YouTube. Here’s one of the better versions, which mercifully breaks it into do-able parts:

If you have difficulty getting subtitles on the version you watch, you may have to click “cc” for closed captions or use the very annoying but handy transcript feature. (It’s really easier to watch on DVD.)

And here’s a link to my favorite number (which actually begins about two minutes in). Non-fans of musicals can breathe a sign of relief; there are songs only about every half hour.

But I really wonder what the person who translated the lyrics for the subtitles was smoking.

Anyhow, hope you enjoy.

15 Comments

  1. Water Lily
    Water Lily December 1, 2012 10:08 am

    Thanks! Bookmarked. I love eclectic films!

  2. Claire
    Claire December 1, 2012 10:35 am

    Hope you enjoy, Water Lily. I know that some people don’t care about movies at all, and even for those who do, it can be a stretch to persuade them that they might want to watch an epic-length, foreign-language musical. But really, Lagaan is (and feels) SO good …

  3. Philalethes
    Philalethes December 1, 2012 12:11 pm

    From the Wikipedia article (warning: spoiler) it sounds like a lot of fun. “After realizing that Bhuvan loves Gauri, Elizabeth returns to London. Heartbroken, she remains unmarried for the rest of her life.” seems just a wee bit over the top, but hey, that’ll show those Brits.

  4. Oliver
    Oliver December 1, 2012 12:28 pm

    Philalethes Says:
    December 1st, 2012
    From the Wikipedia article (warning: spoiler) it sounds like a lot of fun. “After realizing that Bhuvan loves Gauri, Elizabeth returns to London. Heartbroken, she remains unmarried for the rest of her life.” seems just a wee bit over the top, but hey, that’ll show those Brits.
    ……….. Those tax the locals to death Brits grrrr. Still beats being shot in the back with a Winchester rifle I suppose 😉

  5. Richard
    Richard December 1, 2012 12:39 pm

    oh wow that us one of my favourite films of all time. I work with India a lit so I sort of fall for some of their films. when it comes to Bollywood these are my favs
    lagaan – which you saw
    Water – by Deepa Mheeta, will tear your heart apart while being visually pleasing
    Fire – same director funny and sad
    Earth – same director very pretty. get the theme? earth fire water trilogy

    Bride and Prejudice – yes Jane Austen Bollywood style

    not Bollywood but written by Indians
    Life Of Pi – fantastic book, great film
    Bend It Like Beckham – cute film

    I’ve got lots more. 🙂

  6. Claire
    Claire December 1, 2012 1:54 pm

    Keep ’em coming, Richard. 🙂

    I’ve seen all but “Fire,” “Earth” and “Life of Pi” (and that one’s in my Netflix queue). I loved Bride & Prejudice, but it’s been six years. Time to have another look, I think.

  7. Claire
    Claire December 1, 2012 1:55 pm

    Philalethes and Oliver — Yes, but (SPOILER) arrogant Capt. Russell gets a much more fitting bit of payback in the end.

  8. Claire
    Claire December 1, 2012 2:05 pm

    LarryA — I didn’t put it on the list because at first I didn’t think of it. Then when I checked I found it to be pretty pricey for a DVD. But thanks for the nudge. I just added it and perhaps its price will come down sometime soon.

    It really is one to watch over and over — but only when you’ve got LOTS of time. I watched it over two evenings, and I noticed one of the Amazon reviewers finally only got to it while sick in bed — but then loved it.

  9. Philalethes
    Philalethes December 1, 2012 2:58 pm

    Now that Bombay (originally Portuguese: Bombaim = “good little bay”) has been nativized to Mumbai, should it be “Mollywood”?

  10. Claire
    Claire December 1, 2012 4:33 pm

    Philalethes — I admit that very question keeps me up worrying on many nights. 😉

  11. LarryA
    LarryA December 1, 2012 6:43 pm

    “I didn’t put it on the list because at first I didn’t think of it.”

    We do get into habits. One evening I had a lady, who was on my website, phone me with some questions about one of my Community Ed CHL classes. After I answered them she said, “Okay. First thing in the morning I’ll go on line and sign up.”

    I said, “Or you could do it now.”

    (sigh) “Yeah. I keep forgetting that.”

  12. Claire
    Claire December 1, 2012 6:44 pm

    Okay. Who did that? Who’s guilty? Who’s the Secret Santa? I put Lagaan on my Amazon wish list after LarryA suggested it and — that quick! — it was in my Christmas stocking!

    You guys … I blush.

  13. Claire
    Claire December 5, 2012 2:05 pm

    Got the lovely Lagaan video today. No note! Another Secret Santa — but I do have my suspicions. 🙂

    Thank you, Santa. Now I won’t have to worry about it disappearing off Netflix again.

  14. Claire
    Claire December 5, 2012 6:08 pm

    You know what? I not only don’t have a suspicion. I don’t even have a clue. So whoever you are, Secret Santa, THANK YOU.

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