Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
Credit: Lagaan: Hardeep Singh Sachdev

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India


If, like me, your experience of India’s Bollywood musicals has been pretty much limited to the opening credits of ”Ghost World,” you should make a point of catching Lagaan, the unlikeliest enthralling movie to be released so far this year. Set in 1893, in a rural Indian village that’s under the thumb of British occupation, it’s essentially a corny, inspirational let’s-win-the-big-game sports movie ? ”Major League” remade into a three-hour-and-45-minute class-war operetta about a cricket match. That may sound like a bit more colorful pop exotica than you want to bite off, but every frame of ”Lagaan” believes in what it’s showing you, and that’s the film’s secret.

Aamir Khan, who has some of the wily glamour of the young Tony Curtis, magnetizes every scene as the rebel-romantic hero, who organizes the villagers into a cricket team to go up against the British. At stake is the local tax (the lagaan); depending on the outcome, the villagers will either be freed from it for three years or levied to the point of slavery. The musical numbers sweep you up in effulgent good feeling, and the cricket game, which features such devices as a low-caste cripple who turns out to throw a mean curveball, builds in power. ”Lagaan” may be fluff on a grand scale, but it’s been made with an innocent yet fervid conviction that our Hollywood has all but lost.

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
  • Movie
  • 225 minutes