[Note: Since I don't have the resources to see new movies as often as I'd like to update this blog, some of these posts are going to be "retreads" about older movies.]
I was totally ignorant of the Bollywood phenomenon until three years ago when, attending a movie at the local arthouse theater, I saw the trailer for Lagaan. An Indian musical?, I thought, That sounds AWESOME! I saw it a couple of times and instantly fell in love with it. It's on my top 10 favorite movie list. If you've got four hours to spare, definitely check it out.
It's set in 19th century India, during the heyday of the English colonization. Every year the villagers have to pay a tax - a significant portion of their harvest, called "lagaan". It hasn't rained much that year, and the village where Bhuvan lives can't pay. They go to their rajah for help, but he can't do much without the approval of the local British officer, Capt. Russell. Bhuvan eventually goes to the Captain himself and after a battle of wills a wager is proposed. If the villagers can put together a cricket team that can beat the Captain's team, they won't have to pay lagaan for three years. If the villagers lose the match, they have to pay triple.
Of course, the villagers haven't the first clue how to play cricket. But they have hope, and this is a movie, so that obviously makes all the difference. The Captain's sister, Elizabeth, is staying at the encampment. She takes pity on the villagers - and takes a fancy to Bhuvan - and promises to teach them how to play. Roughly the last hour of the film is consumed by the cricket match itself, and it absolutely never gets dull.
The story is quite formulaic, and you might be wondering how it manages to stretch over four hours. But this movie is absolutely amazing. It's got sports, politics, social commentary, romance, slapstick comedy, high drama, and music you will want to find a CD of as soon as the credits start rolling. There are only six musical numbers, but the film makes them count. There's no music just for music's sake. Every song has a purpose and is intricately tied to the story.
I also love the non-intrusive social message of the movie. The villagers are clearly oppressed by the English government and particularly by the Captain. But they, too, are guilty of mistreating others not in their caste. There's even a bit of a religious element to the film - but again, it's not intrusive. And, despite the fact that the villagers follow a very specific variety of Hinduism, the "big prayer scene" was incredible applicable and moving to me as a Christian. They're praying to a different god, but the feelings are the same - "O Savior ... we have no one but You".
This movie also has the most satisfying romantic resolution I think I've ever seen. I positively wanted to jump up and shout "YES!".
It's indecent how much I love this movie. It's a very well-told story. It's a BEAUTIFUL film (and not just because of the oh-so-gorgeous Aamir Khan) - beautiful landscapes and gorgeous colors. And the soundtrack is my anti-road-rage therapy. I can't possibly be upset while those songs are playing.
If you've never seen a Bollywood film before and don't think you'd be interested, give this one a shot. If you have seen a Bollywood film, but haven't seen this one, give it a shot. It's four hours of wow.