Why should I see Lagaan


To home page

to the archive

Lagaan - Once Upon A Time In India


The film lasts almost four hours. A period of time that even in times when blockbusters from Hollywood are no longer afraid of being too long, seems unusual for an average visit to the cinema. And yet - not a minute of the time spent in the Indian sports revolution love musical is boring. On the contrary, the hours go by when you watch Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) gather a group of men to free his province from the rule of tyrannical British colonialism in a cricket game. Lagaan, that is a tax that the population has to pay to the colonial rulers, and this tax is the stake that is played for: not paying a Lagaan for three years, or enduring three times the burden for a year, that's the stake. Masterfully, how director Ashutosh Gowariker jumps between the genres in the staging of this liberation struggle and still manages to maintain the smooth, seamless look of the Bollywood film.


A classic sports film is Lagaanbecause most of the time it just seems to be about the game, which then takes more time to execute than many movies in their entirety. A love story, of course, how could it be otherwise in the Indian mainstream, which is about the rivalry between several lovers. A musical with all the wonderful kitsch that characterizes Bollywood, setting suns, images of the ornamental dancers from the air reminiscent of Busby Berkley and studio voices that approach the lips of the singers only almost synchronously. The clash of these artificial styling devices with the overwhelming exterior shots of the camera (Anil Mehta) unfolds a powerful celebration of the images that can rarely be seen on Western screens. Lagaan is proof that Fritz Lang was wrong when he - in Godards Le Mepris (The contempt) - said that the wide screen was only suitable for depicting snakes and funerals. It is good for much more: when the entire inner field of the cricket match fills the picture surface, when the antagonists face each other and the music tries to heighten the pathos into the sublime, then the two ends of the picture unfold the power of two repulsive and yet tied to one another Magnetic poles between which the ball is thrown and struck, between which the actors' bodies tumble and use all their strength to obey the choreography of the bodies.


The story of the film is a drama of passion and oppression, of liberation and renunciation. His morals may seem strange to you at times, but the messages that are applied as thickly as possible are not without effect: Who could remain unmoved when Bhuvan brings the "untouchables" of the lower caste into the team because he despite - or perhaps because of - his physical Disability can contribute to victory and thus to liberation? Who if the brave players keep fighting, when their bodies are maltreated by the English opponents with a cue ball like a bullet? In general, the bodies: the director's fascination for the male, muscle-bound body seems unmistakable and so there is just as strong an erotic tension between the two male antagonists as between the heterosexual couples serving the genre. The heterosexual love dissolves in the song and in the dance, the same-sex fascination for one another in the ballet of the fighting bodies in the game.


All this fighting spirit does not seem uncomfortable mainly because Lagaan it knows how to distance the audience with humor at exactly the right time, before they get too close to the pathos. When the British are insulted wholeheartedly as "tea drinkers" or as Bhuvat has to deal with the bizarre characters in his village as the only team members at the beginning of the film, this evokes as strong an emotional reaction in the audience as the game itself does - what other film can claim that - evokes spontaneous cheers in the cinema. Lagaan is a great film, which, understandably, was rewarded with great success not only in native India.


Benjamin Happel


This review was first published by:filmkritiken.org

There are several reviews of this film in the archive of the filmzentrale

OT: Lagaan

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker

Premiere: June 15, 2001 (India)

Script: Ashutosh Gowariker, Kumar Dave, Sanjay Dayma & K.P. Saxena

German start: June 20, 2002

FSK: from 6

Country: India

Length: 224 min


Aamir Khan (Bhuvan), Gracy Singh (Gauri), Rachel Shelley (Elizabeth Russell), Paul Blackthorne (Captain Andrew Russell), Suhasini Mulay (Yashodamai), Kulbhushan Kharbanda (Rajah Puran Singh), Raghuvir Yadav (Bhura), Rajendra Gupta ( Mukhiya), Rajesh Vivek (Guran), Shri Vallabh Vyas (Ishwar), Javed Khan (Ram Singh), Raj Zutshi (Ismail), Akhilendra Mishra (Arjan), Pradeep Rawat (Deva), Daya Shankar Pandey (Goli)

To home page

to the archive