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Bollywood is about to conquer the world
Lagaan: What's a movie without music?
by Anhoni Patel on Aug 27, 2004
There's Hollywood. And then there's Bollywood. Based in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) Bollywood is the Indian film industry. It produces more movies than any other country in the world (over 800); three times that of Hollywood with twice the glitz. A typical flick runs close to 3 hours on average and there's a lot of music and dancing. It would be safe to say that even if Indians did a re-make of Schindler's List, they would add in musical numbers. Indeed, if there aren't enough - audiences have been known to riot. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India directed by Ashutosh Gowariker and produced by megastar Aamir Khan, redefines the Bollywood film with, of course, the singing and dancing.
Lagaan is so outstanding that Sony Pictures Classics picked it up and nominated for an Oscar (not that that is any measurement for excellence). A typical Bollywood film follows one of about five formulas (e.g. rich girl meets rich guy, they dance and get married and then dance some more, long-lost twins reunite after 25 years only to realize that they're in love with the same woman, poor boy makes good by fighting bad guys and winning the heart of some rich guy's daughter, etc.) that are as melodramatic and over-the-top as they come - think Mexican Soap Operas combined with Lifetime Television for Women with a little Roberto Benigni slapstick humor and 1980's Madonna. Although Lagaan is melodramatic at times, it's as in touch with reality as a mainstream Bollywood film can get.
Set in a small, rural village in India in 1893 during the glory days of British colonization, Lagaan tells the tale of a group of villagers struggling against an arrogant and unjust governing system through a game of cricket. Lagaan literally means 'land tax' which would be supplied in the form of grain, the British would tax the maharajah (king) of the area who would in turn tax his subjects, who would have to supply him with bags of grain. This year double taxes are imposed; however, there's a drought and people can barely feed themselves.
The enigmatic and oh-so handsome Aamir Khan plays Bhuvan, a proud villager who gets himself embroiled in a battle of egos with Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne) the head of the British governing unit in his district, who challenges him and the village to a game of cricket. If the village wins they don't have to pay lagaan for three years, but if they lose they have to pay triple lagaan. Needless to say, drama (and singing and dancing) ensues. The village has to learn how the hell to play cricket (which is funny, particularly to cricket fans since India totally dominates the sport), luckily they get help from Elizabeth Russell (Rachel Shelley), the Captain's sister. Of course, what's a Hindi movie without drama and romance? Gauri (Gracy Singh) has the hots for Bhuvan and she ain't happy with some white woman hanging around with her man. Thus, more singing. The setting is authentic and believable; whereas most Hindi movies nowadays are set in a contemporary India that is so far removed from the real thing that they might as well be set on Pluto. The people look like real people (fat, ugly, and bald as well as pretty and good-looking), the village looks like a real village, and the poverty looks like real poverty. The songs, composed by one of India's leading composers A.R. Rahman, are powerful and the words are manful unlike a lot of Hindi film music, which is mostly about love and desire. However, the cricket team Bhuvan assembles looks like a poster for Affirmative Action and the film is way too P.C., which is amusingly anachronistic since the film is set in 1893. The cricket match is great and you don't have to know anything about the sport to appreciate it.
Whether you're an avid fan of Bollywood fare who travels to theaters like Naz 8 in Fremont to watch the latest releases or have only accidentally encountered a brief clip full of dancing and music while surfing the television on a Sunday morning, Lagaan will appeal to you.
3 hours 40 minutes
by Anhoni Patel on Aug 27, 2004