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If you liked the color, energy, and romance of Moulin Rouge!, but wished they'd slow it down a little so you could enjoy it; if you liked Gandhi, but wished they'd lighten up a little and maybe break into song periodically; if you liked Robin Hood, but thought it had too many trees; if you liked 1776, but thought its babe quotient was too low; if you liked The Natural, but have had enough of great baseball movies and think it's high time for the definitive cricket flick--have I got a show for you : Lagaan.  This most expensive Bollywood musical of all time tells the story of a spunky group of Indian villagers who play a cricket match against their oppressive British overlords in 1893 with their tax bill on the line.  If they lose they owe triple lagaan (land tax); but if they win they'll owe no taxes for three years.  With drought having destroyed the previous year's crop and little sign of rain in the current season, there's no prospect of them being able to cover their bet, so they are truly playing for their lives.

The leader of the group is Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), a brash and handsome young man who is goaded into the bet by the vile commanding officer of the British cantonment, Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne).  Shocked at her brother's unfairness and more than a little smitten with Bhuvan, the visiting Elizabeth Russell (Rachel Shelley) decides to help the villagers learn the game.  The people of the village, Champaner, are initially distraught at the predicament that Bhuvan has gotten them into, but as he slowly assembles a team--including a strapping deaf-mute; a crazed holy man; a Muslim; a rather excitable chicken wrangler; and finally even a crippled untouchable--they are more or less shamed into embracing the effort.

The match itself, for those of you who aren't up on your cricket, is spread out over three days, and by the time all is said and done, the movie has spread out over four hours.  But I assure you, it's not one moment too long.  Besides the already considerable plot elements outlined above, there's also, despite Elizabeth's longings, a great love blossoming between Bhuvan and a lovely village girl named Gauri (Gracy Singh).   British authorities, none too pleased with Captain Russell's arrogance, have informed him that if he should somehow lose, he'll be headed to a tour of duty in Central Africa.  Unbeknownst to our heroic cricketeers there's a traitor in their midst.  Oh yeah, and the whole cast periodically breaks out into mammoth song and dance numbers.  It's as if the folks who made the movie decided to cram the entire history of the cinema into one film, and, believe it or not, they pull it off.

Sure it's pretty improbable and the social history is fairly ridiculous--the scene where the untouchable is not only accepted as part of the squad but invents the googly is particularly divorced from reality.  But this is a movie after all, a big sprawling movie that's bent on pleasing the crowd, and does, so we're more than willing to give it some historical leeway.  And in its eagerness to please, the film provides scenes and themes for viewers of nearly every persuasion to grab onto.  My personal favorites are that the entire showdown is fueled by unjust taxation, rather than the kind of racial mau-mauing that you'd expect in a modern movie.  The filmmakers are also generous enough that, even though Captain Russell and a few of his teammates are portrayed as real Simon Legrees, most of the British are eventually shown rooting for the underdogs and the refereeing of the match is proper to a fault.  But, for my money, the best scene has the entire village submitting to the will of Lord Krishna and prevailing upon Him to help them in their time of trouble, even in the midst of this mighty effort where they've finally learned to take the initiative and help themselves.  Topping it all off, the entire film re-enacts the ancient Hindu legend of Radha and Krishna, a tale of platonic love.  When's the last time you saw a Hollywood movie where any of the love was platonic?

With sweeping scenery, fabulous looking actors, and a thrilling blend of action, comedy, and song and dance, this is certainly the best musical epic to come along since maybe The Sound of Music.  In fact, it's one of the most enjoyable movies you'll have seen in a very long time.

(Reviewed:18-Feb-02)

Grade: (A+)

Websites:

See also:

    -Lagaan.com (Official Movie Site)
    -INFO : Lagaan (Internet Movie Database)
    -INFO : Lagaan (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Ashutosh Gowariker  (Imdb.com)
    -PROFILE : Amir Khan (ApunKaChoice)
    -ARTICLE : HOWZAT, BOLLYWOOD? (Shailaja Neelakantan, September 27, 2001, Far Eastern Economic Review)
    -ESSAY : The Radha-Krishna Amour (Immortal Love Legends, Hinduism at About.com)
    -REVIEW : of Lagaan (Stef Loy, Chiaroscuro)
    -REVIEW : of Lagaan (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of Lagaan (Kujinder Singh, BBC)
    -REVIEW : of Lagaan (Sunder, Planet Bollywood)
    -REVIEW : of Lagaan (Sita Menon, rediff.com)
    -REVIEW : of Lagaan (Kopal Mehrotra, Mystical Styles)
    -REVIEW : of Lagaan (Mohammed Ayub Khan, IslamOnline)
    -REVIEW : of Lagaan (ApunKaChoice)
    -AWARDS : Lagaan walks away with eight Filmfare awards (17th Feb 2002, ApunKaChoice)

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