Monday, March 05, 2007

Lagaan--A Movie Review

We have had a lot of events over the past several days, and as a result, we have had tired kidlets. So on Saturday we ordered in pizza and have Family Movie Night. The movie was Lagaan.

We had it because the kidlets had seen Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood extravaganza version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in which our protagonists sing and dance their way into matrimony across three continents. It's sheer exuberant silliness captured their imagination, so I thought it would be fun to show them another one.

I had forgotten what a big mouthful of bran and oatmeal Lagaan could be. It's actually four hours long, and the plot revolves around land taxation and a three day long cricket match. Mostly in Hindi, with subtitles. I actually began to have second thoughts. And third and fourth thoughts as well. But, amazingly, we all got caught up in it. I'd even seen it before and knew how it came out, and I was biting my nails over the tension in the final act.

The kidlets were absolutely engrossed, except when the tension got too great, and the Bunny put her fingers in her ears and buried her head in the cushions chanting "I can't watch this, I can't watch this." We cheered on the good guys and booed the bad guys, and Bunny kept interjecting "I can't believe no one has slapped him yet. Someone should slap him. Maybe the elephant can step on him." My palms were itching too.

The plot concerns a bet: in 1893, the drought stricken village of Champener is behind in its taxes to be paid to the British forces, and they owe double taxes. The rains still haven't come and there is no way they can pay the taxes, much less double taxes, and they are already starving. While the villagers are asking for tax relief, the British officer issues a challenge--if the villagers can defeat the British at cricket, the tax will be cancelled for three years.

The impetuous (and deeply honorable) Bhuvan accepts the challenge, and now has to collect eleven players and learn the game. In the course of training the team, we see an allegorical unification of India: the squabbling neighbors unite, Muslims and Hindus play together, the village cripple is found to have a unique skill at bowling with spin, and even an Untouchable is accepted onto the team. In their desire to defeat the British and preserve their village, the traditional divisions of age, position, and cast are all overcome.

In the end (slight spoiler here) the British outpost is closed, and this small corner of India sees the withdrawal of British rule. After all, the Empire can't afford to have the entire country playing cricket to evade taxes--it's a dangerous precedent.

Simultaneously, there is a love story which parallels the story of Krishna and Radha. One of the village girls, Gauri, is in love with Bhuvan but he seems blind to her. An Englishwoman defies her countrymen and comes to help the villagers learn to play cricket, and finds herself falling in love with Bhuvan as well. Gauri sees this infatuation, and worries, but Bhuvan also seems blind to this. The parallel is not clear--which woman will Bhuvan/Krishna marry, and which will be his "Radha," the one who personifies pure and selfless love?

One of the beauties of Bollywood films is the singing and dancing, and even in Hindi the music is hummable and infectious. I went to scour iTunes for the soundtrack, but it's not available on the US version. It can be ordered from Amazon, however.

Now I'm looking for some more recommendations for more Bollywood. And we've put India on the list of places we need to visit.

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