Director: Ashutosh Gowarikar
The great Indian formula is back. Just when the Hindi film industry was gasping desperately for a breath of fresh cinematic air, an insider, someone part of the crazy dilution of form and content that overtook Bollywood in the '90s, appears to have bailed the lot out. Lagaan is the kind of movie that sets trends—spread over more than three and a half hours, it's able to hold viewer attention by the sheer pace of its narrative. Slow, languid, even seemingly tepid in parts, the story is fine-tuned like a piece of Dhrupad music. The transitions are sharp and slick—yet they do not jolt or shock. It revives the classical predictability of Indian aesthetics; it also resurrects the old, solid hero, the perfect, albeit cocky nayak of Indian folk stories.
Ironically, the fictitious hero is actually presented as someone lost to history. The film treads the thin borderline between fantasy and reality—the love of a good contest, especially between underdogs and the privileged, is part of Indian audience's folk culture. By introducing the cricket element in the great stand-off between peasants and the British, Ashutosh Gowarikar's team successfully merges the believable with the unbelievable, the present with the past. The game becomes an excuse for one long display of Hindi belt gumption and élan. In this sense too, Lagaan breaks the ddlj, hahk-type of mould. It is not a love story—despite the presence of Gracy Singh and Rachel Shelley as part of an understated love triangle, the familiar mush is absent. Craggy, uncouth peasants, as well as the heat and dust of their environment, dominate the screen. There are no city-slickers or exotic songs shot in Europe. Even though some A.R. Rehman songs are add-ons, his overall music, especially the background score, is incredibly simple and effective. Performances too are in sync with the story's feel, though one would have liked a more rounded treatment for Shelley's character.
There are also no major family emotions—the community, in fact, replaces it. After a long time—memory stretches back to the Dilip Kumar of Aan—you have the hero leading, and making, a community. Here Aamir's character, who stands up to the British, brings together disparate strands of caste, religion, class and individual attitudes. While enacting a personal-social drama in a village, he anticipates the way the freedom movement evolved.