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.