UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India

Acclaimed film shows the power of faith and the pursuit of dreams against all odds

By Drew Halfnight

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
Directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar, starring Aamir Khan and Gracy Singh
(Aamir Khan Productions)

When peasants in the drought-prone Indian province of Champaner are faced with the prospect of double taxation under a tyrannical captain of the British Raj, one villager decides enough is enough. Bhuvan, the film’s self-strong hero, travels to the palace to petition for relief — but is instead provoked into a wager that puts the fate of the province in his hands.

The stakes are high. If our man wins, the captain will waive provincial lagaan (land taxes) for three years. But if he loses, taxes will be tripled and the townsfolk will starve. How will the winner be determined? By a friendly game of cricket, of course!

Released in 2001, Lagaan was hailed by critics as an instant classic and the most accessible Bollywood film in years. Indeed, it has many winning elements: magnificent 19th-century-style costumes, artful cinematography, a compelling score and a period set that includes 56 huts and a hilltop temple built for the film by indigenous farmers in western India.

The film’s two lead actors are utterly alluring: Aamir Khan (Bhuvan) holds us in thrall to the very end of this three-hour, 44-minute epic, and Gracy Singh (Gauri, his love interest), with her plaintive eyes and ardent sensuality, positively lights up the screen during her dance number How Can Radha Not Be Jealous?

The prim colonials, wearing veils of white lace and toting opera glasses and parasols, are the picture of decadence. The effete Captain Russell, who puckers his lips and shrieks, “You bloody slaves will remain crushed under our boots!” is a consummate villain.

The story sets the silly plot turns and melodrama of Bollywood to the tumbleweed tempo of a spaghetti western. As Bhuvan assembles his ragtag band of cricketers and prepares them for the showdown, we could be watching Seven Samurai or High Noon, so taut and deftly sustained is the tension.

A warm, spirited yarn about the power of faith and the pursuit of dreams against bad odds, Lagaan is a crowd-pleaser and a good entry point for anyone unfamiliar with Indian cinema.

Can't find this DVD at your local video store? Try ordering it online at www.chapters.indigo.ca or at www.hmv.ca.
Author's photo
Drew Halfnight is a father, journalist and high school teacher in Toronto.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image