“The year is 1893. Champaner… a small village in the heart of India. The people of Champaner depended on agriculture like those in thousands of other villages.” And so begins the story of Lagaan.
In this movie, the people of Champaner are going through a severe drought while paying their taxes to the Raja and to the Queen. “The Rajas would keep one share, and give the rest to the British. In this way, the British fist grew iron strong.”
Lagaan was produced by Aamir Khan, who also stars as Bhuvan, a young man who sets his intentions high. Gauri (Gracy Singh) is a bubbly girl from Champaner who wishes only to marry the man of her dreams, Bhuvan.
Bhuvan lives in Champaner under the ruling of Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne) during Queen Victoria’s rule in 1893. Blackthorne plays a cruel ruler who carries out the threat to double Champaner’s taxes simply because the Raja will not eat meat. Captain Russell is unfeeling towards the villagers, who are struggling to pay their taxes because the lack of rain.
Bagha, a mute man, begins the first song in the movie- Ghanan Ghanan by seeing the first rain cloud of the year. Ghanan Ghanan is an upbeat song sung by the whole village celebrating the arrival of the first dark rain cloud of the year. All of the wonderful music in this movie was by A. R. Rahman. The song ends suddenly with the uneventful passing of the seemingly promising cloud.
When the village finds out about the double tax soon after the song ends, Bhuvan suggests to his fellow villagers to go to the Raja and say that paying the year’s’ lagaan is impossible. The chief of Champaner warns Bhuvan that even if the Raja hears them out, he will not agree. Bhuvan is strong willed and vows, “[If they don’t agree] Then all the separate fingers will close into a fist.”
The Raja tells them that excusing them from their taxes is impossible, for his hands are tied too. Then Captain Russel interrupts their conversation and says it is indeed possible after all. Under one condition. If the villagers can beat them in a cricket match, then the tax will be lifted for the entire province for the next three years. But if they lose, they will pay three times the tax for just as long. Bhuvan accepts the bet, much to the disapproval of the village.
That night, Gauri visits Bhuvan to tell him that she has faith that he can win. This lifts his spirits and the next day he teaches his younger brother how to play, “What whiteys play wearing pants and call it Kirkut (cricket). And we wear loin clothes and call it Gilli-Danda” in front of the village. After two unsuccessful tries at hitting his homemade ball, Bhuvan finally hits it all the way up to the temple so it rings the bell! Bagha, the mute man, retrieves it and is the first to join Bhuvan’s team. Next, Guran says, “I am also with you.” and joins the team as well.
When the team of three (and Bhuvan’s brother) spies on a cricket match of the British to try to learn the game, Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), Captain Russel’s sister, tells them that she would like to help, since she thinks her brother’s conditions are unfair.
Next to join the team is Goli, a master at the slingshot. Bhuvan convinces Goli with the encouraging words, “He who has truth and courage in his heart shall win in the end.” And so begins the second song in the movie- Mitwa.
Mitwa is a moderate-paced song with a catchy tune and inspiring lyrics. By the end of the song, Bhuvan has recruited a total of five players for his cricket match against the British-himself, Guran, Bagha, Goli, and Isar Kaka.
When Elizabeth comes to meet the team and teach them for the first time, the viewer sees a look of jealousy on Gauri’s face when Bhuvan cannot move his eyes for Elizabeth’s face.
Soon after Elizabeth leaves, Bhuvan finds their sixth player- Bhura. Meanwhile, Captain Russell reports to British Headquarters, where he gets a lecture from Colonel Boyer, who says his silly bet is preposterous. “And so, Captain Russell was warned…If he won the game, he’d have a narrow escape. But if he lost, he’d have to pay the triple tax of the entire province from his own pocket. Moreover, he’d be transferred to the Central African desert.”
Next to join his team is Arjan, who is fed up with the British and is ready to join Bhuvan’s team. During Arjan’s first practice with the team, the viewer finds Lakha, a man who hates Bhuvan because he has Gauri’s love, and his group spying on the team. In this scene, one of his group, Ismayeel, stands up for his right to help out with what’s right and joins Bhuvan.
The next scene is the village at the local temple, celebrating Krishna’s birthday. To celebrate, Gauri and Bhuvan preform the third song in the movie, Radha Kaise Na Jale. The song reflects what is happening between Bhuvan and Gauri at the moment and how jealous Gauri is of Elizabeth since she seems to be getting all of Bhuvan’s attention. During the song, the viewer sees a look of realization of Elizabeth’s face as she watches Gauri’s feelings for Bhuvan be displayed through song and dance.
After the song, Captain Russell finds out from Lakha that his sister is teaching the village the game of cricket. “Just say that my victory lies in Bhuvan’s defeat.” The captain tells him that he will join Bhuvan’s team, but he will work for the captain. When Russell corners his sister, he bans her from the villages and bounds her to the Cantonment.
Now Bhuvan has ten on his team- himself, Arjan, Guran, Ismayeel, Goli, Bhura, Bagha, Isar Kaka, Lakha, and Deva. But soon after gaining Deva, Elizabeth tells him it is too difficult for her to sneak out of the Cantonment and she has to leave. But she says one thing to him before she goes (In English), “I’m falling in love with you.” Of course he doesn’t understand, and when he comes back, Gauri is crying because she knew what Elizabeth was going to say.
This scene is the beginning of the fourth song in the movie- O Re Chorri. It is a love song that Bhuvan sings to her to prove to her that there is nothing between him and Elizabeth. The song also features a section in English sung by Elizabeth.
During another practice, Bhuvan finds his eleventh player, an untouchable. Kachra can throw a ball that spins away from his target. The team refuses to play with an untouchable, but Bhuvan defends him and treats him as a real human, and eventually Kachra gets accepted into the team.
The fifth song in Lagaan is a strong, bold song sung by the cricket team as they are training for the match. It is called Chale Chalo which means walk ahead. One of the main verses in the song translates to,
“If a finger rises, it shall break.
When all five join, the fist is formed.”
“And then, the historic day dawned when the first rays of the sun fell on the cricket field.”
After the first day of playing, Lakha gets told on for working for the British. Bhuvan talks to him and Lakha begs to be forgiven, and eventually he is after he agrees to try his best at the cricket game, for so many lives are at risk.
“They begin the second day’s play with the score at 182.” They end the day with five of their best batters out, so they sing the sixth song in the movie- O Palanhaare, a prayer for victory and removal of obstacles.
On the third day of the match, Isar Kaka can run no longer and is out. There is only Ismayeel, Kachra, and Bhuvan left to win for the province. They have to score the rest of the runs for the team. When Ismayeel gets out, it’s up to Bhuvan and Kachra to score ten runs in six balls. Then one of the British bowlers intentionally hits Bhuvan on the head with the ball.
Can he still play? Who won the cricket game? Did the province has to pay three times the tax? Who gets Bhuvan, Elizabeth or Gauri? Who gets Gauri, Bhuvan or Lakha? Sorry, you’ll have to watch. Lagaan.