July 4th, 2021

cricket

Film Watch: Lagaan (2001)

My dentist recommended this Indian film, when we were talking about cricket. I had terrible trouble finding it because I thought, wrongly, that it was on Netflix. I eventually tracked it down on YouTube. I’d been told it was in English but it was Hindi with English subtitles. I think I watched the wrong version because there was far less dancing and singing than you see in the trailer below.

The film is set in a village at the end of the nineteenth century. The farmers fear they face starvation because the rains have failed. To make matters worse, the local ruler is forced by the British to raise taxes. When they protest, nasty Captain Russell issues a challenge: beat the British at cricket and be let off paying the new taxes. The hero, Bhuvan, agrees to this, to the horror of the villagers. They don’t know the game! They will lose everything! How could he be so reckless as to put their livelihoods at risk? He wins them over and then the Captain’s sister comes to the rescue. She wants to see fair play and so she, ‘the white lady’, offers to coach them, even after her brother has forbidden her to leave the cantonment. All this takes a long time and is rather slow but that’s me: I find a three-hour film too long.

Things liven up when we reach the match. It’s to be played over three days, one innings for each team. On march the British, immaculate in their whites, red caps and proper boots. The Indians shamble on, a very unprepossessing looking lot, in their everyday clothes and with home-made bats. The match is as tense as any modern game you could watch and everything comes down to the last ball… In the end, the winner is not England or India but cricket. Captain Nasty cheats but the (white) umpires are scrupulously fair and all the old colonels and dignitaries watching call out ‘well played!’ and applaud the Indian as well as the British team. You’d think they were at Lord’s.

I did enjoy the film, which is quite funny and of course, includes a love story. The moral? That cricket was the Raj’s greatest legacy to India?