Lagaan (transl. Agricultural Tax), released internationally as Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, is a 2001 Indian Hindi-language epic musical sports film written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, and produced by Aamir Khan. Khan stars along with debutant Gracy Singh, with British actors Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne in supporting roles. Made on a then-unprecedented budget of ₹43 crore (US$6.0 million), the movie was the maiden project from Aamir Khan Productions and was shot in villages near Bhuj.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ashutosh Gowariker|
|Produced by||Aamir Khan|
|Written by||K. P. Saxena|
|Screenplay by||Ashutosh Gowariker|
|Story by||Ashutosh Gowariker|
|Narrated by||Amitabh Bachchan|
|Music by||A. R. Rahman|
|Edited by||Ballu Saluja|
|Distributed by||Zee Studios (India)|
Sony Pictures Networks (International)
|Budget||₹43 crore (US$6.0 million)|
|Box office||₹250 crore (US$35 million)(see below)|
The film is set in the early 1890s, during the late Victorian period of India's colonial British Raj. The story revolves around a small village in Central India, whose inhabitants, burdened by high taxes, and several years of drought, find themselves in an extraordinary situation as an arrogant British army officer challenges them to a game of cricket, as a wager to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The narrative spins around this situation as the villagers face the arduous task of learning a game that is alien to them and playing for a result that will change their village's destiny.
Lagaan released on 15 June 2001, clashing with Gadar: Ek Prem Katha starring Sunny Deol and Ameesha Patel. Lagaan received widespread critical acclaim and awards at international film festivals, as well as many Indian film awards. It became the third Indian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film after Mother India (1957) and Salaam Bombay! (1988).
In 1892, a delayed monsoon has rendered the farmers of Champaner unable to grow any crops. They pay a visit to local King Puran Singh to ask for exemption from the annual tax (lagaan), which has been doubled this year. The king, a nominal figure under the protection of the British Raj, is at the Cantonment where a cricket match is underway between British army officers. At the game, a young farmer named Bhuvan gets into a scuffle with one of the officers and ends up mocking the game in front of the commanding officer, Captain Andrew Russell. Enraged, the short-tempered Captain challenges Bhuvan to a match of cricket in exchange for cancelling lagaan. He raises the stakes by offering exemption from lagaan for the next three years should the farmers win, but also asking for a triple payment should the farmers lose. Bhuvan wittingly accepts the challenge.
Informing his fellow villagers of the challenge, Bhuvan is met with incredulity; no one believes they will stand any chance of winning and they are terrified that the heavy tax burden will destroy their lives. Assembling a team proves to be difficult, as the only people to support Bhuvan are his mother and Gauri, the daughter of the village medic. The next day, Bhuvan puts up a public display of cricket in the village square and gains two supporters—Bagha, a strong drummer and Guran, an eccentric astrologer. To learn the rules of the game, they start secretly going to the cantonment to observe the playing officers. Unexpected help comes in the form of Captain Russell's sister, Elizabeth, a young woman who wants to give the farmers a fair chance by teaching them the game. With the help of an Indian translator, she starts meeting Bhuvan and his team at a ground outside their village. Soon, other villagers join the team. With a few weeks to go until the day of the match, Bhuvan is still missing one player and spots a hidden talent in Kachra, a cripple living on the fringes of the village. Kachra, bowling from his injured hand, can naturally spin the ball without difficulty. The other team members threaten a walkout because Kachra is also an untouchable, but Bhuvan reminds them of the high stakes of the match and expresses belief that Kachra will prove to be their team's strongest weapon.
The day of the match arrives and the British army team elects to bat. The match has taken on a new dimension for Captain Russell, because he has been commanded by his superiors to pay the exempted lagaan from his own pocket should his team lose the match. The British team lose early wickets thanks to the unconventional bowling style of the farmers; however, they recover and end the day's play positively with Captain Russell leading the scoring. Kachra's bowling has been completely ineffective the whole day. At night, Elizabeth spies Lakha, a member of Bhuvan's team, talking to her brother in a conspiratorial manner. Lakha had been playing particularly poorly that day, and she informs Bhuvan of his betrayal. Angered, the villagers chase after Lakha to kill him but Bhuvan decides to give him another chance when Lakha confesses to being jealous of Gauri’s love for Bhuvan.
The next day, Lakha redeems himself on the field and plays with great spirit. Kachra regains his ability to spin the ball, now that the ball has lost some of its hardness. He takes a hat-trick and some further quick wickets, and the British innings is over. The villagers' run chase starts promisingly, but soon the main batters, apart from Bhuvan, all lose their wickets before the end of the second day. The next day, steady and careful batting by Bhuvan and Ismail, an injured but capable player, gets them out of trouble. With victory now in sight, Ismail is run out, leaving Bhuvan to make the required runs with the last man, Kachra. With only one over left to play, Bhuvan loses strike and Kachra is forced to bat for the victory. With a boundary needed on the last ball, he only manages a single. However, the unbiased British umpire calls a no-ball (illegal delivery), putting Bhuvan on strike for the replayed delivery. He swings mightily, connects, and clears the boundary, thus winning the match for his team.
In the coming weeks, with the villagers celebrating the end of lagaan, the British cantonment is disbanded, and the villagers watch as the British caravan departs from Champaner, seemingly forever. Elizabeth, who had fallen in love with Bhuvan, steps out to bid him a tearful farewell. She returns to England and never marries, while Gauri and Bhuvan get married with great fanfare in the village.
- Aamir Khan as Bhuvan Latha. Ashutosh first thought of having Shah Rukh Khan, Bobby Deol, Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan for the role of Bhuvan. After Bachchan chose to enter cinema with J. P. Dutta's Refugee (2000), Aamir was approached with the idea.
- Gracy Singh as Gauri. Several actresses had offered to act in the film, but Aamir needed someone who matched the description of the character given in the script. After considering Rani Mukerji who did not have dates to accommodate the film, Sonali Bendre, Nandita Das, Shamita Shetty and Ameesha Patel were approached for the role, Ashutosh selected Gracy Singh for the female lead because he was convinced that she was a good actress and dancer and resembled actress Vyjayanthimala. Singh, a newcomer, devoted all her time to the film.
- Rachel Shelley as Elizabeth Russell
- Paul Blackthorne as Captain Andrew Russell. Since the script also demanded a British cast, Ashutosh and Aamir hired Danielle Roffe as one of the casting directors. After Danielle and Ashutosh screen-tested many, Shelley and Blackthorne were chosen for the prime roles. Overall, the film cast 15 foreign actors.
- Suhasini Mulay as Yashoda Maa, Bhuvan's mother
- Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Raja Puran Singh
- Rajendra Gupta as Mukhiya Ji
- Raghubir Yadav as Bhura (fielder), the poultry farmer. Yadav played the role of the legendary Haji Nasruddin in the teleplay Mullah Nasiruddin and has given many memorable performances such as Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne. Yadav was selected based on his performance in Earth (1998). He had undergone an appendectomy operation in-between the filming schedule and returned to complete some of his scenes.
- Rajesh Vivek as Guran (seamer), the fortune teller. Vivek was spotted by Ashutosh in the film Junoon (1978). His liking for cricket helped him in his role.
- Raj Zutshi as Ismail (batsman), the potter. Zutshi's friendship with Aamir and association in several films brought him the role after the auditions.
- Pradeep Rawat as Deva Singh Sodhi (all-rounder), a Sikh ex-sepoy. Rawat's association with Aamir in Sarfarosh (1999) brought him the role of Deva which was initially intended for Mukesh Rishi. Rawat claimed that it was the highest ever compensation he received in his career.
- Akhilendra Mishra as Arjan (batsman), the blacksmith. He is insulted by Captain Russell, as he fixes horse-shoe on the Captain's Horse and involuntarily hurts the animal. Captain who is enraged by the reprimand he received from his seniors for arranging a Cricket Match with the villagers for avoiding taxes, is furious to find his favourite animal hurt and he beats Arjan. After which Arjan joins the team of Bhuvan. Mishra has acted as "Ekku" Kroor Singh in the teleserial Chandrakanta and also in the film The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) as Chandra Shekhar Azad alongside Ajay Devgn who played the role of Bhagat Singh.
- Daya Shankar Pandey as Goli (seamer), the man with the largest piece of land. Pandey, who preferred the role of Kachra, was known to Aamir and Ashutosh through previous films (Pehla Nasha (1993), Baazi (1995) and Ghulam (1998)). Pandey credited Ashutosh for his acting in the film, saying that Ashutosh and he would discuss the required emotions and expressions before shooting.
- Shrivallabh Vyas as Ishwar (wicket-keeper), the vaidya (doctor) in the village and Gauri's father.
- Yashpal Sharma as Lakha (batsman), the woodcutter. Sharma was chosen by Ashutosh after his portrayal in Samar (1999). He said it was a good experience working with Aamir and Ashutosh during the film.
- Amin Hajee as Bagha (batsman), the mute drummer. Hajee earlier worked in a film with Ashutosh. The friendly association brought Ashutosh to him with the script, which he liked, and thereafter he successfully auditioned for his role. His knowledge of mute people and some assistance from a music band helped him better prepare for his role. Ashutosh, who believed that Amin was like Sylvester Stallone, would refer to him as Stallone during filming.
- Aditya Lakhia as Kachra (spinner), the untouchable. Lakhia's association with Ashutosh in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1993) and Pehla Nasha (1993) brought him this role. He read the book Everybody Loves a Good Drought by P. Sainath to better understand and portray his character.
- Javed Khan as Ram Singh, Indian who works with British and helps Elizabeth in translating villagers language.
- A. K. Hangal as Shambu Kaka
- Amin Gazi as Tipu
- John Rowe as Colonel Boyer
- David Gant as Major Warren
- Thor Halland as Captain Roberts
- Jeremy Child as Major Cotton
Director Ashutosh Gowariker has stated that it was almost impossible to make Lagaan. Gowariker went to Aamir, who agreed to participate after hearing the detailed script. Aamir had initially rejected the idea of a "sporty" film, but was "himself in tears" upon hearing the full dialogued script. Even after securing Khan, Ashutosh had trouble finding a producer. Producers who showed interest in the script wanted budget cuts as well as script modifications. Eventually, Aamir agreed to Ashutosh's suggestion that he would produce the film. Aamir corroborated this by saying that the faith he had in Ashutosh, the story and script of the film, and the opportunity of starting his own production company inspired him to produce Lagaan. He also said that by being a producer himself, he was able to give greater creative freedom to Ashutosh. He cited an example:
"If the director tells the producer that he wants 50 camels, the latter will probably say, 'Why not 25? Can't you manage with 25 camels?' Whereas, if he is telling me the same thing... I will not waste time asking him questions because I am also creatively aware why he needs them."
One of the first members to join the production team was Nitin Chandrakant Desai, the art director, with whom Ashutosh set out for extensive location hunt throughout India, to find the setting for the fictional town of Champaner, in late 1998. After searching through Rajasthan, Nasik, UP, they zeroed in on an ancient village near Bhuj, located in Gujarat's Kutch district, by May 1999, where the film was primarily shot.
The script demanded a dry location: an agricultural village where it had not rained in several years. To depict the 1890s era, the crew also required a village which lacked electricity, communication and automobiles. Kutch faced the same problems at that time and hence the village of Kunariya, located a few miles away from Bhuj, was chosen. During the filming of Lagaan, it did not rain at all in the region. However, a week after the shoot finished, it rained heavily bringing relief to Bhuj, which had a lean monsoon the previous year. The typical old Kutch hamlet was built by the local people four months before the arrival of the crew. The 2001 Gujarat earthquake devastated this region and displaced many locals. The crew, including the English, contributed to their cause by donating ₹250,000 (equivalent to ₹800,000 or US$11,000 in 2019), with further contributions during the year.
Avadhi, which is a dialect of Hindi, is primarily from a region in Uttar Pradesh. It was chosen to give the feel of the language spoken during that era. However, the language was diluted, and modern viewers can understand it. The dialogues, which were a combination of three dialects (Avadhi, Bhojpuri and Braj Bhasha) were penned by Hindi writer K. P. Saxena.
Bhanu Athaiya, who won an Oscar for her work in Gandhi (1982), was the costume designer for the film. With a large number of extras, it was difficult for her to make enough costumes. She spent a lot of time researching to lend authenticity to the characters.
The film took approximately a year to plan, which included ten months for production and one month for the development of Khan's character, which the first-time producer found tiring. Khan obtained a crew of about 300 people for six months. Due to the lack of comfortable hotels in Bhuj, he hired a newly-constructed apartment and furnished it completely for the crew. Security was set up and a special housekeeping team was brought to take care of the crew's needs. Most of the 19th century tools and equipment depicted in the film were lent to the crew by the local villagers. Initially, they did not want to part with their equipment, but after much coaxing, they gave in. They then travelled to different parts of the country to collect the musical instruments used in that day and era.
The filming schedule spanned the winter and summer, commencing in early January and finishing in mid-June. This was physically challenging for many, with the temperatures ranging from 0 to 50 °C (32 to 122 °F). The actors had to drink frequently and sit in the shade. The schedule was strict. The day began at 6 am, changing into costumes and getting onto the actors' bus, which took them to the sets in Kanuria. The actors, including Aamir, all travelled on the same bus. If anyone missed it, it was up to them to reach the sets. One day, Aamir was late and missed the actors' bus. That day, his wife Reena, the executive producer, reprimanded him for being late. She told him he had to set an example for the rest of the crew. "If he started coming late, how could she tell the others to come on time?" While on the sets, the actors were given call sheets with the day's timetable such as breakfast, hairstyling, make-up, costumes, etc.
Before its worldwide release, Aamir Khan kept a promise to screen the film to the locals of Bhuj. Lagaan clashed with Gadar: Ek Prem Katha starring Sunny Deol and Ameesha Patel at the box-office. The film made it to the UK Top 10 after its commercial release. It was the first Indian film to have a nationwide release in China and had its dubbed version released in Italy. With favorable reviews from the French press, Lagaan premiered in Paris on 26 June 2002 and continued to have an unprecedented nine weeks of screening with over 45,000 people watching. It was released in the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa and the Middle East with respective vernacular subtitles. The film took a cumulative of $2.5 million at the international box-office and ₹380 million (equivalent to ₹1.2 billion or US$17 million in 2019) at the domestic box-office.
In 2001, Lagaan had a world premiere at the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) weekend in Sun City, South Africa. The Locarno International Film Festival authorities published the rules of cricket before the film was screened to a crowd which reportedly danced to its soundtrack in the aisles. Lagaan was shown 4 times due to public demand as against the usual norm of showcasing films once at the festival. It subsequently won the Prix du Public Award at the festival. After the film's publicity in Locarno, the director, Ashutosh Gowariker said that distributors from Switzerland, Italy, France, Netherlands, North Africa, Finland and Germany were wanting to purchase the distribution rights. Special screenings were held in Russia, where people were keen to watch the film after its Oscar nomination.
Apart from these screenings, it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, Cairo International Film Festival, Stockholm International Film Festival, Helsinki Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is available on Netflix.
The film initially grossed ₹659.7 million (equivalent to ₹2.1 billion or US$30 million in 2019) worldwide in 2001. This made it the third highest-grossing Indian film of 2001, behind Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... and Gadar: Ek Prem Katha.
Domestically, Lagaan grossed ₹556.3 million (equivalent to ₹1.8 billion or US$25 million in 2019) in India. Its domestic net income was ₹343.1 million, equivalent to ₹1.87 billion ($27 million) when adjusted for inflation.
With an overseas gross of ₹108 million (US$2.2 million) in 2001, it was the year's second highest-grossing Indian film overseas, preceded only by Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.... Lagaan's overseas gross included £600,000 in the United Kingdom, US$910,000 in the United States and Canada, and US$180,000 in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
Including the film's China collections, the film's total worldwide gross was ₹676.8 million (US$14.533 million). At a ticket inflation rate of 5.5 times, the film's total gross is equivalent to approximately ₹3.72 billion ($53 million) when adjusted for inflation.
Lagaan was met with critical acclaim. The film holds a 95% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 59 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Lagaan is lavish, rousing entertainment in the old-fashioned tradition of Hollywood musicals." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 84 out of 100 based on 21 critic reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Sudish Kamath of The Hindu suggested that "the movie is not just a story. It is an experience. An experience of watching something that puts life into you, that puts a cheer on your face, however depressed you might be." The Times of India wrote, "Lagaan has all the attractions of big-sounding A. R. Rahman songs, excellent performances by Aamir Khan... and a successful debut for pretty Gracy Singh. In addition, there is the celebrated David vs. Goliath cricket match, which has the audiences screaming and clapping."
Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and wrote, "Lagaan is an enormously entertaining movie, like nothing we've ever seen before, and yet completely familiar... At the same time, it's a memory of the films we all grew up on, with clearly-defined villains and heroes, a love-triangle, and even a comic character who saves the day. Lagaan is a well-crafted, hugely entertaining epic that has the spice of a foreign culture." Derek Elley of Variety suggested that it "could be the trigger for Bollywood's long-awaited crossover to non-ethnic markets". Somni Sengupta of The New York Times, described it as "a carnivalesque genre packed with romance, swordplay and improbable song-and-dance routines". Dave Kehr, another New York Times film critic, called Lagaan "a movie that knows its business -- pleasing a broad, popular audience -- and goes about it with savvy professionalism and genuine flair." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times argued that the film is "an affectionate homage to a popular genre that raises it to the level of an art film with fully drawn characters, a serious underlying theme, and a sophisticated style and point of view."
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian described the film as "a lavish epic, a gorgeous love story, and a rollicking adventure yarn. Larger than life and outrageously enjoyable, it's got a dash of Spaghetti Western, a hint of Kurosawa, with a bracing shot of Kipling." Kuljinder Singh of the BBC stated that "Lagaan is anything but standard Bollywood fodder, and is the first must-see of the Indian summer. A movie that will have you laughing and crying, but leaving with a smile."
Lagaan was listed as #14 on Channel 4's "50 Films To See Before You Die" and was the only Indian film to be listed. The film was also well-received in China, where its themes resonated with Chinese audiences. It was ranked #55 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. In 2011, John Nugent of the Trenton Independent called the film "a masterpiece ... and what better way to learn a bit about India's colonial experience! History and great entertainment, all rolled into one (albeit long) classic film."
Aamir Khan and Gowariker went to Los Angeles to generate publicity for the Academy Awards. Khan said, "We just started showing it to whoever we could, even the hotel staff." About India's official entry to the 2002 Oscars, The Daily Telegraph wrote, "A Bollywood film that portrays the British in India as ruthless sadists and Mafia-style crooks has been chosen as Delhi's official entry to the Academy Awards." It added that the film was expected to win the nomination.
On 12 February 2002, Lagaan was nominated for the best foreign language film at the Academy Award nominations ceremony. After the nomination, Khan reacted by saying, "To see the name of the film and actually hear it being nominated was very satisfying". Post-nomination reactions poured in from several parts of the world. USA Today wrote "Hooray for Bollywood, and India's Lagaan". With Sony Pictures Classics distributing the film and Oscar-winning director Baz Luhrmann praising it, Lagaan had a chance to win. The BBC commented that the nomination raised Bollywood hopes that Indian films would become more popular in the US. In India, the nomination was celebrated with news reports about a win bringing in "a great boost for the Indian film industry" and "a Bharat Ratna for Aamir Khan and the status of a 'national film' for Lagaan".
When Lagaan lost the award to the Bosnian film No Man's Land, there was disappointment in India. Khan said, "Certainly we were disappointed. But the thing that really kept us in our spirits was that the entire country was behind us." Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt criticised the "American film industry" as "insular and the foreign category awards were given just for the sake of it." Gowariker added that "Americans must learn to like our films".
The film won a number of awards at Indian award ceremonies including eight National Film Awards, eight Filmfare Awards, eight Screen Awards and 10 IIFA Awards. Apart from these major awards, it also won awards at other national and international ceremonies.
There were two releases for the DVD.
The first, as a 2-DVD set, was released on 27 May 2002 in limited regions. It contained subtitles in Arabic, English, Hebrew, Hindi, Turkish and several European languages. It is available in 16:9 Anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, progressive 24 frame/s, widescreen and NTSC format. It carried an additional fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, filmographies and trailers.
The second was released as anniversary edition 3-disc DVD box after 6 years of the theatrical release. This also included Chale Chalo which was a documentary on the making of Lagaan, a curtain-raiser on the making of the soundtrack, deleted scenes, trailers, along with other collectibles.[which?] After its release, it became the highest-selling DVD in India, beating Sholay (1975).
In the anniversary DVD edition, a National Film Award-winning documentary, Chale Chalo – The Lunacy Of Film Making, 11 collector cards, a collectible Lagaan coin embossed with the character of Bhuvan, a 35 mm CinemaScope filmstrip hand-cut from the film's filmstrip were bundled with the film.
A comic book, Lagaan: The Story, along with 2 colouring books, a mask book and a cricket board game were subsequently released to the commercial market. The comic book, available in English and Hindi, was targeted at children between the ages of 6 and 14. At the book's launch, Aamir Khan said that they were keen to turn the film into a comic strip during the pre-production phase itself.
In March 2002, a book titled The Spirit of Lagaan – The Extraordinary Story Of The Creators Of A Classic was published. It covers the making of the film, describing in detail the setbacks and obstacles that the crew faced while developing the film from concept to its release.
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- Lagaan at Rotten Tomatoes