Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India

Submitted by Guest Post,

Lagaan began as a dream, a nebulous dream dreamt for the first time as far back as 1996 by a man called Ashutosh Gowariker. Over the last 3 years I, and the entire cast and crew of Lagaan, have tried to help and support the man leading us to realize his dreams.”

Aamir Khan, May 5, 2001

Om Shanti Om

Aamir Khan, the star and first-time producer of any movie, is a perfectionist. He became the producer for this movie because he believed that the movie would not be made properly and with enough focus to the intricacies if he didn't produce it. It was this attention to detail, the natural drama inherent in a sports movie, and the linear storyline that earned the movie an Oscar nomination.

Khan also said that by being a producer himself, he was able to give greater creative freedom to director Ashutosh Gowariker, arguing that "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."

The Hindi word lagaan means “tax” or “taxation” and it is sometimes translated “land tax”, which is the most accurate translation given the plot of the film. Lagaan is in many ways quintessential Bollywood conveying hope, disappointment and love with wonderful song-and-dance scenes.

Lagaan is set in 1893 in a small village during the British Raj under Queen Victoria’s rule. There has been a drought for three years, causing the villagers to fall behind in the tax payments due to the British. In a rash move to save them from the taxes, Bhuvan, one of the villagers, challenges the British to a game of cricket mistakenly thinking that it is a version of a simple childhood game the villagers used to play.

Now, trapped after accepting the wager offered by the British captain that will save the village from paying taxes for three years, Bhuvan must recruit a ragtag team of villagers to learn the game of cricket. Bhuvan knows the wager is the only way to save the villagers from future starvation.

Nita Genova
Good Golly! It's Bolly! Course Leader
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at RIT & Program Chair, Women's Council of RIT

Lagaan Fun Facts

  • Shah Rukh Khan and Abhishek Bachchan were considered for Bhuvan.
  • Gracy Singh (Gauri) is an actress who came into limelight with her role as Dinky, in the television serial Amanat on Zee TV.
  • Bollywood legend, Amitabh Bachchan is the narrator.
  • The village of Champaner was built with the same materials and detail of 1800’s construction. And then was leveled at the end of shooting.
  • During the shooting, Ashutosh suffered from a slipped disc and needed bedrest for 30 days. During this period, he had his bed next to the monitor and continued with his work.
  • This film shoot was organized by Hollywood standards. Bollywood movies typically do not use a script and much is spontaneously created on the set causing continuity errors. Khan used an
  • Khan recruited his wife, Reena, to be his production manager. Nothing in her background prepared her for this. Growing up in the same neighborhood and married to Khan at age 19 (he was 21), she did not engage in any activities surrounding films including attending parties with Khan, but he convinced her to take on the job. He has stated that he could not have made this film without her.
  • Two other actors were contracted to play Elizabeth and Captain Russell by Ashutosh & Reena in London. But Aamir rejected them after seeing them in person.
  • Rachel Shelly (Elizabeth) had to learn to ride side-saddle on the set.
  • The British actors had to audition their cricket skills to get a part. 12,000 cricket shots were taken.
  • Raghubir Yadav as Bhura, had an appendectomy in-between the filming schedule and returned to complete some of his scenes.
  • The dialect used was a “water-downed” Avadhi, a Hindi dialect mainly spoken in Uttar Pradesh which would sound like the language of the time. It was softened so that the modern movie-goer would be able to understand.
  • Aditya Lakhia as Kachra (translation Trash) read Everybody Loves a Good Drought by P. Sainath (Stories from India’s Poorest Districts) to prepare for his role as the untouchable villager. “Untouchability” was outlawed in 1950.
  • Future Oscar winner (Music-Slumdog Millionaire) A.R Rahman composed the music and the first Indian to be awarded an Oscar (Costumes-Gandhi), Bhanu Athayia designed the wardrobes.
  • The whole cast and crew lived together for six months during the filming. They all rode the same bus to the set and if you were even a minute late, you were left behind even if you were the star! Aamir was left behind once.
  • A week after the shoot ended, the first rain fell in the territory in three years. In 2001, a massive earthquake level the village where the crew had resided including the hotel where they had been staying. The whole crew, including the British actors and actresses, raised $10,000 to rebuild the area.

Learn More

The Basic Rules of Cricket Explained

Lagaan Trivia from the website rediff.com

Everything I Know About Cricket I Learned from Lagaan: a humorous look at what one person learned about cricket.

Reason & Respect: The Human Spirit in Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India Essay by Britt Crossman of Roger Williams University about the social-cultural themes in Lagaan.

Bhatkal, Satyajit, and Lancy Fernandes. The Spirit of Lagaan. Popular Prakashan, 2002.

Chandra, Pradeep. Aamir Khan: Actor, Activist, Achiever. Niyogi Books, 2014.

England, Chris. Balham to Bollywood. Hodder & Stoughton, 2002.

Sainath, P. Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India's Poorest Districts. Penguin Books, 2017.

Friday, January 19, 2018