Some of the basic ones amongst us might say that ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ is the best Bollywood movie ever made- but I am here to tell you why you are wrong. No, that’s too pushy of me. I am here to tell you why my favourite Bollywood movie isn’t Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. It’s definitely one of the really good ones, and the poetry in the movie has made me cry multiple times depending on what part of my cycle I am in while watching it, but nothing beats Lagaan for my favourite Bollywood movie ever. Dil Chahta Hai came so close. If Lagaan is at #1, Dil Chahta Hai is probably at #1.001. That’s how close they are.
Lagaan captures almost every aspect of Indian culture and Bollywood so that it appeals to every Bollywood fan. On Netflix, it falls under Period Piece, Drama, Sports Drama, Social Issue Drama and Romance- it’s got everything.
Now, if you haven’t watched Lagaan, get ready for my commentary on it.
The movie starts off with the voice of Amitabh Bachan telling us about Champaner, a small village in central India in the year 1893. The village is shown to be bone dry, which is unfortunate because India back then was a largely agrarian economy. You would think that would mean the head of state would give a sh*t about the farmers but they were slaves to the British, much like the head of state right now doesn’t give a sh*t about farmers because he is a slave to Ambani/Adani. Is this where Modi G is getting ideas about suppressing farmers?! Probably not. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
The scene then moves to a young man by the name of Bhuvan in the forest holding a stone, aiming at a herd of deer, trying to protect them from hunters, i.e., Captain Russell. A soldier finds Bhuvan sabotaging the hunt and threatens to shoot him but Captain Russell, the man with a big heart as we shall soon see, lets him go after threatening him that the next time instead of shooting a rabbit, he will shoot him.
Bhuvan storms out of the forest towards a hill where he finds a young lady, Gauri yelling out his name looking for him.
‘Dafuq you yelling for?’ he inquires.
‘I wanted to tell you about the man I am going to marry’, she says and then proceeds to describe the man of her dreams- someone who has a neem tree in his backyard, a big farm next to his house, and owns 2 cows, a pair of oxen and 3 goats. If this was the criteria of all women back in the day, then I would have to agree with my parents when they say I look for unreasonable things in a man, which is why I’m single.
The scene then moves to the British Cantonment where the head of the princely state, Raja Puran Singh, is waiting for Captain Russell to ask him if he could help him and the villagers out. The villagers want to organise a little prayer in a temple which is in the neighbouring village- they believe that all their problems will go away if they are able to pray in that particular temple but the head of that village is an old nemesis of Raja Puran Singh but a friend of Captain Russell’s. ‘Divide and Rule’ can be traced back to this relationship, really. Captain Russell agrees on the condition that the vegetarian King/Prince/Head of State (I am still unclear on his designation) agrees to eat meat. The King refuses and the villagers are left with the bone dry grounds and lack of irrigation once more because they can’t pray in their temple. Captain Russell then tells him that the village owe him double tax, actually, because they didn’t pay much the previous year- so the villagers who had been hopeful earlier, were now well and truly f*cked.
Fear not, though, because soon clouds start to appear in the sky- if it rains then all their problems will go away- and as Bollywood goes, the village burst into song, singing to the clouds- oh dark clouds, bless us with rain; not the sword of thunder, but the arrows of rain. Wow. What a beautiful song.
The celebration lasts for about six minutes at which point the clouds are just like, ‘nah, not today, thanks’, and recede into the sky. Just then, the British troops arrive and announce that the tax due to the British government is twice what they thought, so no it didn’t rain, and yes, screw you, peasants.
The villagers are outraged and decide to take it to the King. The men of the village travel to his palace the next morning and failing to find him there, walk up to the British cantonment and wait by the cricket field where the soldiers are playing a match. They try to guess what the game is and conclude it is their childhood game of gilli-danda. When the match ends, the men, full of hope, ask the King a seemingly ridiculous question, ‘please, sir, can we not pay tax this year?’ The King refuses, but Captain Russell intervenes- ‘if you beat us in a game of cricket, I don’t see why not. And what’s more, I am happy to waive off tax for the next three years for your village and for the rest of the state as well. But if you lose, you pay three times the tax this year.’
Bhuvan is in a pickle- he knows there is no food growing so not having to pay tax would be ideal, but also he doesn’t know how to play cricket, so if he loses, he could be even more f*cked than he is now. How hard could it be though? ‘Oh, what the hell, I’m a fast learner. You’re on!’ he says to Captain Russell. I’m paraphrasing- I believe his exact words were ‘sarat manjoor hai’.
The rest of the village is less than pleased about Bhuvan’s decision and give him hell for accepting a ridiculous bet but Gauri who is so obviously into him tells him he trusts him and his courage and his mother says, ‘you’re just like your Dad, making snap decisions.’ Also paraphrasing.
Bhuvan has three months to gather his team and learn how to play cricket so he knows he has to speed things up. He starts off by singing a song. If there’s one thing we know that works in Bollywood, it’s a motivational number. He sings about all the good things that will come out of not having to pay tax for three years. At the end of the song, he now has five team mates and we can see there’s one guy looking at him spitefully- the secondary antagonist of the movie, Lakha, who is in love with Gauri and wants to ensure that Bhuvan’s team loses so that he loses his spot on the pedestal that Gauri had put him on.
As Team Bhuvan start the preparation for the game, Captain Russell’s sister Elizabeth finds them spying on Team Russell and she offers to help them learn the game because she knew that life for the farmers was unfair and that Captain Russell’s ridiculous condition was not helping. She seems to have taken a fancy to Bhuvan and Gauri is hella jealous- so she sings a song about why she is jealous and Bhuvan gives her classic f*ckboy comebacks-
‘I know I meet other girls, but you know I only love you’
‘The other girls are like the stars, but you are my moon’
‘The other girls will come and go, but you are the queen of my heart’
‘The language of love isn’t one you speak with your mouth, but rather with your eyes- and that is why I have never openly told you that I love you’
The villagers start to have more faith in Bhuvan and soon his team gets 10 players- Gauri’s father who is a physician so able to tend to any injuries in the team; the local astrologist Guran; Bhura who works with chickens and so has the agility of Rocky Balboa; Goli who has a knack for slingshots so has an excellent bowling performance; Lakha, who is part of Team Bhuvan officially but secretly supporting Captain Russell by informing him of all the weaknesses within the team; Ismail, who was Bhuvan’s only competition in Gilli-Danda back in the day; Arjun, who was brutally beaten by Captain Russell when he accidentally hammered his horse instead of a nail; Bagha, who is hella strong, so great with a bat, but can’t catch the ball to save his life (spoiler alert, during the actual match he does catch the ball and saves not only his own life but the lives of all the villagers); Deva, a Sikh man because no army is ever complete without a Sikh, and also #d&i; and Bhuvan.
However, they are still short by one player. Enter, the social drama angle. As Team Bhuvan practice, the ball falls next to a man who is crippled in his arm. His name is Kachra- which literally translates to ‘garbage’ in Hindi. Subtlety, where are you? Bhuvan asks Kachra to pass the ball- which he does with his crippled arm, and by virtue of his disability, the ball spins and Bhuvan can’t catch it. They have finally found their Yuzvendra Chahal. Excited about this development, he asks Kachra to bowl and assigns positions to the rest of the team- but they don’t move because he is an untouchable. Bhuvan delivers a speech to the villagers to convince them why untouchability shouldn’t be a thing, and convinced by his ideas, they agree to have Kachra on board and now they are officially a full team playing test cricket.
The morn of the match dawns and the entire central Indian population has turned up to watch the match. Day 1 is exciting for everyone- it’s the first match India would participate in, everyone is hopeful that following this match there will be a three year tax break, and Raja Puran Singh, the man who had earlier said that tax cancellation was impossible, was now encouraging Bhuvan to literally blow up Captain Russell’s ego.
At the end of Day 1, two things come to light- Lakha is acting strange and not playing as well as he did during practice and Kachra’s ball isn’t spinning. Well, the ball was still new so it wasn’t going to spin, but what they didn’t know was that Lakha was a traiter. That night, Lakha goes up to the British cantonment to chat with Captain Russell and Elizabeth sees him and reports this to the village immediately. Outraged, the villagers chase Lakha to give him the beating of a lifetime. He confesses to Bhuvan that he is ashamed of what he did and wants a chance to show that he is being honest- which he does the next day, proving that his loyalties have in fact changed and that he isn’t spiteful anymore. With the English team bowled out at 360 odd runs, the Indian team are now chasing a big target- but we all know India does better when they’re chasing. Bhuvan and Deva agree that they need to stick around all day and that five out of the eleven players have to make most of the runs because the rest of the team aren’t the best at batting. All five of them are promptly sent back to the pavilion by the English team before end of day’s play and the entire village get together to sing a hymn #bollywood.
The last day of the match dawns and, I mean, I don’t even have to go through the details at all, but India wins the match and then as they celebrate it starts to rain. All is well. Elizabeth comes out of the British pavilion to celebrate with Team Bhuvan and maybe even possibly tell Bhuvan she kinda sorta has a crush on him, but before she can, she sees him and Gauri in an embrace and walks away, not wanting to be the Tina in that relationship.
Unable to bear the embarrassment of losing a cricket match and hence, tax for the next three years, the cantonment is moved to another state and Elizabeth leaves the country, while Captain Russell is transferred to Africa.
Lagaan remains one of my most favourite movies- and it has no suspense at all. The minute Bhuvan accepts Captain Russell’s challenge to play a match to forego tax for the next three years, you know Bhuvan’s team is going to win. If they didn’t it would be a terrible plot for a movie. Indians don’t take losing a cricket match very well, so immortalising a loss through a movie would never bode well. Everything about this movie is incredible- the music is authentic and reflective of old-time tunes; the location is apt, showing exactly what a potential drought would look like; the story is fresh and unique; it has an actual cricket match in it so you know that anyone watching it for the first time would watch it with awe and excitement; and it has left us with some iconic dialogues like ‘hum tumse teen guna lagaan vasool karega’. 100% would watch it again. Although, Netflix is taking it down on the 23rd of February so that’s a bummer.