What makes the film Lagaan so good

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In Victorian India, the humble population of an agricultural province suffers from the high grain taxes they have to pass on to their British rulers. When the sadistic Captain Russell decides that from now on the people in his area have to pay twice the amount of taxes (called "lagaan") to him, one of the villages under the leadership of the charismatic Bhuvan sees only one way out. They embark on a sneering bet initiated by the British: if they manage to defeat the English in cricket - a game almost unknown to them - then they will be exempt from tax for a total of three years. However, if they fail, they pay three times the amount.




When you tell people you are going to the cinema and you tell them after they get the title Lagaan - Once Upon A Time In India know nothing at all, briefly summarizes what the film is about, and of course also mentions that the film is part of the Indian "Bollywood" productions, roughly belongs to the genre of musicals, and lasts just under four hours, then you have usually already lost every chance of getting someone to accompany you. The prejudices that one has against the supposedly extremely garish, kitschy, orgiastic, trivial and sentimental, operatically exaggerated films from Bombay are too great. However, I would have Lagaan had seen it before I mentioned that I would see it in the cinema, I could have argued that it is a film so extremely "western" that Hollywood hardly makes it today. That this epic has retained so much of the original nature of its medium that many viewers should find it strange again. With those, however, you don't really know why they go to the cinema in the first place.


Lagaan is a classic film in every way. Pure cinema of the purest size and lovable escapism. In Ashutosh Gowariker's film, we get exactly what we imagine when we think about the core values ​​of cinema: the protagonists we love, with whom we tremble, laugh and cry, the antagonists we hate, whom we wish misfortune and about whose bad luck we can be thievingly happy. Big American cinema, which originally shaped these principles in its great epics, has moved more and more away from them. Today you can always feel how attempts are being made to portray charismatic "villains" and at the same time to offer "antiheroes" whose support we should actually be ashamed of. Nothing speaks against this form of filmmaking; on the contrary: each of these films is psychologically more complex and has more depth than him Lagaan would ever reach in its full 224 minutes. While the latter films often get stuck in the air, lacking the heart and the courage for great consistency, this Indian epic knows exactly what it wants and effortlessly achieves its overriding goal of the absolute, over-long entertainment of its viewers a way that Lagaan qualified as a perfect film.


From a plot point of view, the film is roughly divided into two large sections: the preparations for the game and the recruitment of players from the village population, and the game itself, which takes about an hour. From this it can already be seen that the synopsis turns out to be extremely simple and often seen. In addition, every step of the action is predictable, and we almost always know exactly what will happen next. However, anyone who thinks they can present this as a serious point of criticism is deceiving themselves. Because the outcome of the works was always predetermined in the ancient Greek tragedy, and it was already foreseeable after a very short time how the end would be. Nevertheless, the works were read and seen and one enjoyed the pure "ingenuity of the path design". It is the same Lagaan, because although everything seems foreseeable, the film evokes such tension (especially in its last hour) that the people in the performance I was present at watched the final cricket game feverishly, the outcome of which we all only watched is known. It even went so far that there was an exuberant storm of jubilation in the audience at every important point of the Indian team, and every faux pas of the English was laughed at. At the same time, gross and painful mistakes by the Indians were always highlighted with a murmur going through the audience and the soft hissing of "Shit!" and "Oh no!" accompanied and even if you, like me, understand absolutely nothing about cricket, you could follow the course of the game without any problems and always knew exactly where the decisive moments were, because the bare emotions, the pure images of desperation, struggle, and the unbridled will to win, sloshed over so much and triumph over the canvas. Sometimes you actually felt more like at a sporting event than in a movie theater. But one thing becomes very evident and clear to everyone: If a film manages to pull its audience out of their seats in concern for the heroes of the story, then it has achieved great things - perhaps even the greatest.


This tremendous sympathy that we have for the heroes can be traced back Lagaan feel that Gowariker takes almost three hours to bring them and their hard struggle for bare survival, which is attached to this one game, so close to the audience that their fate burns itself more and more firmly into our hearts that we suddenly become attached to them, like to a hitherto unknown person whose friend we have become within a few hours. Ashutosh Gowariker relies entirely on the tried and tested foundations of the cinema and on the traditional. However, it is the privilege of the "Bollywood" film that these actually so conventional and well-known elements (be it a fatalistic love story between three parties, the "conversion" of a traitor from within their own ranks or the union of former enemies) are so exaggerated that they suddenly seem new, "un-American" to us. This concept of complete shamelessness in dealing with the familiar is preserved Lagaan also in the creation and drawing of his characters: the large group of protagonists, among whose idiosyncratic and lovable heads almost everyone can find his or her identification figure, revolves around Bhuvan (Aamir Khan, also producer of the film and the superstar in India) young, not undisputed man, as it was ultimately he who accepted the seemingly hopeless bet with the British. Bhuvan is an archetypal hero: fiery, passionate and combative, but at the same time also endowed with the sympathy bonus of the outcast for his daring, the single person who must now try to win comrades-in-arms in the fight for his cause. Bhuvan is heavily courted by the traditional, pretty and touchingly self-sacrificing Gauri (Gracy Singh), who has great hopes of marrying Bhuvan. However, these hopes are suddenly put in their place when the beautiful sister of Bhuvan's archenemy, the British Captain Russell, turns up to help the villagers learn to play cricket. Of course, envy and even hatred of the beautiful "White Lady" seize Gauri.


Especially when describing this inevitable triangular relationship Lagaan no situation of excessive feelings: from promises of love before sunset, under the starry canopy and on mountain heights, to longing solo dances through the British palace on the part of Russell's sister Elizabeth, there is no lack of boundless pathos anywhere. The fascinating and also so immensely gratifying thing, however, is that Lagaan to this brutal emotional attack, this limitless exaggeration of romance down to the smallest detail. At the same time he embeds them ("Bollywood" -typically) in the most furious musical numbers, both vocally and dance-wise, which also took the "horror" away from the next kitsch Hollywood films and gave them magic and naturalness in dealing with pathos. These scenes in particular are one of the most beautiful proofs of the perfect craftsmanship with the Lagaan was produced: There are wild rushes of colors and pure bombast, captured by a freely and quickly moving camera, equipped with an almost outrageous feeling for show values ​​and large images. The strongly percussion-oriented music of A.R. Rahman thunders the rhythm of the wild dances, encourages you to join in, sets the pace for the assembly and underlines the elementary moments of the plot with an always appropriate, always opulent, but never intrusive throw-in. Gowariker's staging style is equally impressive: A born filmmaker is at work here, you can already feel it in the perfect timing with him Lagaan is created. His director always knows when the audience wants to "cheer" on, when they want to be amazed at such large-scale, but never stressed, settings, when they want to indulge in the sweeping dance numbers completely and purely "looking", or when they want to quiet thirsting for thoughtful scenes in which the ways of thinking of the villagers and their relationships with one another are illuminated, yes, in which Lagaan at times even a political dimension has been added, referring to the inhumanity of the caste system. And maybe this is the quintessence of Lagaan: That it is a film from a very "knowing" director. A film that is absolutely sure of its cause and pursues it with all its heart and full zeal: Namely, after four hours of wonderful cinema magic, with a big smile on their faces, returning the viewer to the reality of our life - after we have a wonderful Were somewhere else for a long evening. This is one of the best films of the year.


Janis El-Bira



This review was first published by:MovieMaze

There are several reviews of this film in the archive of the filmzentrale



(Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, 2001)

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker

Premiere: June 15, 2001 (India)

Script: Ashutosh Gowariker, Kumar Dave, Sanjay Dayma & K.P. Saxena

German start: June 20, 2002

Country: India

Length: 224 min


Aamir Khan (Bhuvan), Gracy Singh (Gauri), Rachel Shelley (Elizabeth Russell), Paul Blackthorne (Captain Andrew Russell), Suhasini Mulay (Yashodamai), Kulbhushan Kharbanda (Rajah Puran Singh), Raghuvir Yadav (Bhura), Rajendra Gupta ( Mukhiya), Rajesh Vivek (Guran), Shri Vallabh Vyas (Ishwar), Javed Khan (Ram Singh), Raj Zutshi (Ismail), Akhilendra Mishra (Arjan), Pradeep Rawat (Deva), Daya Shankar Pandey (Goli)



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