Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
March 18, 2019 8:13 PM - Subscribe

In 1890s India, an arrogant British commander challenges the harshly taxed residents of Champaner to a high-stakes cricket match. If the villagers win, they will owe no taxes for three years, which would deliver them from poverty in a time of drought. If they lose, they will owe three times their normal taxes, which would mean ruin for all of them. Complication: the villagers do not know how to play cricket.

Produced by and starring Aamir Khan.
posted by DirtyOldTown (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Also stars Paul Blackthorne, aka the CW Arrowverse's Quentin Lance, aka the title character from The Dresden Files.

Available streaming in the US on Netflix.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:17 PM on March 18, 2019

I love this movie so much. It works on so many levels -- as your basic sports underdog story (it almost makes understand cricket), as a musical, and as an allegory of the end of British rule. It's just perfect. It's 3 hours 43 minutes, and yet when I watched the 20-minute deleted scene on the DVD, I wished they'd left it in.

Also stars Paul Blackthorne, aka the CW Arrowverse's Quentin Lance

At a DragonCon panel a few years ago, I got in the Q&A line and said that Lagaan was one of my favorite movies, and asked him if he could say something about what it was like to work with Amir Khan/how he ended up in the movie. He was like "you're going to ask me about that here?" and I said "When else am I going to get the chance?" (I mean, it was a Blackthorne solo panel, it's not like I did it during an Arrowverse group cast panel.) Anyway, he credited the movie with getting his LA career started, as when Lagaan got nominated for an Oscar, Khan invited him to join him in LA for the pre-awards press junket.

There's a documentary on Netflix of the making of Lagaan, Madness in the Desert, which was terrific. I knew this had to have been a bear of a movie to make, but, wow.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:51 PM on March 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

Yeah, this is another movie that just works in the old school audience pleasing fashion. Nothing exceptionally high blown about it, but it doesn't really dumb anything down and has an epic-like scale to carry a sense of the importance of it all. I really enjoyed it back when I watched it and should probably watch it again sometime to see how it works now that I'm a bit more familiar with the Indian film industry and its history.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:15 AM on March 19, 2019

My main problem with Lagaan is that it’s a three hour movie about learning to play cricket that makes no effort to actually explain how cricket is played.

I have an Anglo friend who was dating a guy whose parents had emigrated from India. Early on in their dating, they went to see Lagaan. She was enjoying the film until the song which is basically “How could you think I would fall in love with a pasty woman,” and she spent the rest of the movie wondering “is he trying to tell me something?“ As the lights came up, he said “I had forgotten about that song, and that’s not how I feel.” They’ve been married for quite a while now.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:13 PM on March 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

Wait which song, O Rey Chhori (lyrics, youtube video)?. That seems like an uncharitable reading. I mean, I don't think it's even really Bhuvan singing to Elizabeth in that song, it's her fantasy version of him, so I'm not seeing anywhere he explicitly rejects her.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:56 PM on March 19, 2019

It’s been a long time, but the story context is something like: the evil captain’s sister has been helping the hero, partly because she knows her brother is evil and partly because she has a crush on the hero. The hero’s girlfriend in the village gets jealous, and the song question is between the hero and the girlfriend as he reassures her that he has no interest in the captain’s sister.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:57 AM on March 20, 2019

I know the context, I've seen the movie many times, and, yeah, Bhuvan teases Ghauri over her obvious jealousy of Elizabeth before the big love song, but the song itself doesn't disparage Elizabeth. I can maybe see how maybe your friends found it an awkward date movie as an inter-racial couple since Elizabeth is the loser of the love triangle, but, still, how else could an allegory about the end of British rule end other than having the British characters leave?
posted by oh yeah! at 3:36 AM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

but the song itself doesn't disparage Elizabeth.

I don’t know about that. It has been a very long time since I watched the movie, but I remember coming away with a very strong feeling that Elizabeth was poorly treated by the script. Now, as you point out, in the context of an anti-colonial film, that was sort of a foregone conclusion. It doesn’t really matter if she is sympathetic to the cause or attracted to the hero, she has to go away at the end and be the footnote in someone else’s story. Nevertheless, she gets shuffled off once her dramatic role is complete, as a surplus woman, and not particularly kindly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:53 PM on March 20, 2019

This is so great, like Bollywood doing a David Lean epic, but with warmth and charm too. And what an ensemble! Some of the very best musical sequences I've seen, too.

There were a few things that weren't ideal... Like Elizabeth learning Hindi literally in a day. And Bhuvan wiping out the caste system with one heartfelt monologue was a bit of fanciful hero posturing for the star.

I liked Gauri so much. I enjoyed her as Chinki in Munna Bhai, MBBS too. I may have to hunt down more of her movies.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:36 PM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Real talk: Hollywood cinema does not have a star as talented, powerful, productive, progressive, reliable, and efficient as Aamir Khan. He has the Everyman appeal of Tom Hanks, the lunatic versatility of Johnny Depp, the insistent but understated progressivism of Brad Pitt, and the shrewd business acumen of Tom Cruise, and the get-it-done-yourself autonomy of Warren Beatty in his prime in one package.

He is the world's best movie star. It's not close either.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:19 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, how much do we love Guran, aka Bollywood Brian Blessed?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:22 PM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

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