Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (3:44, 2001, 8.3, 95%) is an epic Bollywood sports drama telling the fictional story of Champaner, a small Indian village who barters with their British colonists to abolish their tax over a game of cricket. The Indians know nothing of the game and must learn it, while the British are portrayed as arrogant parasites with a clear confidence in their game. Underdog and colonist stereotypes aside, the film is quite lovely in displaying all the colour and life that is India, and is ripe with psychological themes for perhaps a younger audience just getting into sport psychology.
At just under four hours in length, I was surprised by how quickly the time flew by. The majestic music scores were delightful — underscoring that this is the most expensive film to come out of Bollywood yet — but these might be a bit of a bore for anyone still in high school. The many twists and turns as the story comes to a climax serve to keep you on the edge of your seat just enough so that you’re not sure who’s going to come out on top in the end.
Favourite moments for me revolved around the community-building aspects of the film. That Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim villagers came together so organically without even so much as mentioning each other’s religion — even during the most intense arguments — was a testament to how plurality can enrich instead of divide. This pales, however, to the empathy showed by Bhuvan, the main character, when he invites Kachra, an untouchable, to join his team based solely on merit, chastising the rest of the village when they turn their backs on the lower caste. This moment brought a tear to my eye.
Speaking of Bhuvan, Aamir Khan — the man playing the role, has this face that I was sure I’d seen before. It took a few months to me to place his skeptical, intense-but-almost-frightened stare: Eminem! Once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it.
This film receives only ★★★, losing points for a predictable plot and overly simplistic, black-and-white portrayals of good and evil, and for my only being able to recommend it to young families and high school gym/history/film classes (though both may want to make a two-session event out of it). However, with affable, Disney-like characters and magnificently choreographed dance scores, it can quickly become a family movie night favourite.