I still remember when I first read the storyline of Lagaan months before its release. A group of villages who play a cricket match against the Britishers in the pre-independence era. It sounded little funny. Ashutosh Gowarikar, Lagaan’s director had a tough time to find the leading actor with top actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan all turning down the offer. He also could not get a producer who was willing to spend the money for the movie in the scale he planned. Thats when Aamir Khan came into picture and decided to both act in the movie as well as produce it. And the rest ,as they say, is history
Today Lagaan has a prominent place in both Indian and International Cinema arena. Apart from being one of the all time big blockbusters, Lagaan also became only the third Indian movie to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film after Mother India and Salaam Bombay. The film is ranked No. 55 in Empire magazines “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema”and also listed in Time magazine’s special “The All-TIME 25 Best Sports Movies” in the world. The huge international acclaim made sure that Lagaan is one of the those Indian movies that have been watched most by the rest in the world.
Like most of the sports movies, Lagaan also told the heartening story of how an undertog team triumphed over the mighty opponents but the screenplay and execution were in a way never seen before in Indian Cinema. Lagaan has so many moments that stay with you forever but atleast two scenes might rank among the best you have ever seen.
First one when British Captain Russel challenges Bhuvan to play the cricket match against them and offers him to cancel the taxes of the whole province if the villagers can beat his men in a cricket match. Its a superbly executed scene where Aamir Khan just remains silent when the captain makes his offer to cancel the taxes for first 1 and then 2 years. Finally when Russel changes his offer to 3 years, Aamir replies with ‘ Manzoor hain’ despite his natives’ oppositions and there started the tale on how a young man fought against all odds, won the hearts of his entire village, united them and finally took his team to their fate changing triumph against the powerful Britishers.
The second brilliant scene and my favorite one is obviously the last ball sixer. Aamir Khan gets back to the batting crease in the last ball and lowers his head in despair but gets to know that he has still one last chance when the umpire signals the no-ball. A.R Rahman’s terrific music starts in the background as the camera focuses to Aamir Khan and the fielders spread out to their position .All the previous scenes in the movie flash through his mind in a moment as the bowler takes his run-up and he finally hits the ball above the boundary. As the umpire signals six, Aamir Khan falls on the ground with a heavy sigh of relief and the entire village runs towards their hero. It doesnt matter if you have watched the scene 10 or 50 or 100 times , it still gets your adrenaline pumping and gives you goosebumps.
Aamir Khan had already been known as Perfectionist prior to 2001 but its since Lagaan he completely acquired the incomparable and impeccable knack of choosing brilliant scripts. You might see a number of bad choices prior to Lagaan , but since then the only bad spot in an otherwise amazing portfolio (one that is an envy of any other Indian actor) would be Mangal Pandey. As Bhuvan ,the young man who carries the hopes of an entire village, Aamir Khan is simply terrific and makes sure that you cannot imagine any other actor playing that role.
In a movie which doesnt consist of other popular actors, Aamir Khan holds the fort and carries the 3.45 hour movie on his entire shoulders. He is superb throughout whether he is convincing his people to play the match , handling his teammates during the match or batting throughout the innings. He never wavers for a moment in the movie and the determination to win is apparent in his eyes all through.
To make a 3 hour 44 minute movie thoroughly enjoyable is not a small feat and Ashutosh Gowariker’s skillful direction makes sure you never have a dull moment in such a long movie. Its just pure magic ,how he has handled the match in the second half , one which gives you the same thrills and chills every time you watch the movie irrespective of already knowing the outcome.A.R Rahman’s music as always amplifies the impact of the proceedings by multifold.
I had watched many movies that are visual spectacles directly on small screen and I had been often content doing so despite missing the big screen experiences. Only once have I really wished that I should have definitely watched a movie from the big screen and it was when my friend told that a theater in Kochi where he watched Lagaan turned out to a Cricket Stadium in its last one hour with mexican waves, applause and cheering .