Hooray for Bollywood



My bride and I have had a very happy marriage for over thirty-five years.  (Putting up with me for that length of time should subtract quite a bit from any time she may have in Purgatory!)  One feature of our marriage is that we each have hobbies and interests we pursue.  For example, I blog and my wife crochets.  Thus far I have moved quickly and frequently enough so that I have not had a crocheted blanket wrapped around me permanently.  Among her numerous interests, my bride has developed a fondness for Bollywood films.  Think of a film industry dominated by the types of musicals Hollywood was churning out circa 1955, in Hindi or Hinglish, with plenty of comedy and melodrama.  Some of her interest has rubbed off on me, and I found the film Lagaan, a historical pic, to be quite interesting.  Here is her review of that film:






I first got interested in watching Bollywood films as a result of a recently-developed enthusiasm for anything related to Jane Austen, including movie and TV adaptations of her novels. Bride and Prejudice (2004) is a Bollywood-style adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, set in modern India, and was my first exposure to Bollywood movies. (Purists might not consider that film a trueBollywood film, but it was close enough for a new outsider fan like me.)  I found that I especially loved the singing and dancing which seem to be such an important element of traditional Bollywood films, and YouTube clips of the songs from various Bollywood films were the hooks which got me to seek out DVDs of films which looked interesting, including Lagaan (2001). I recently replaced my home computer with one which lacked an optical media drive on which I could play those Bollywood DVDs; however, I was happy to discover that Lagaan was available on Netflix, together with Madness in the Desert, a feature-length making-of  documentary about that film. (I would recommend watching Madness in the Desert first, as it is entirely in English (although the subtitles still help), and helps to prepare newcomers to Bollywood films for viewing Lagaan itself.)

Set in 1890s northern India under the Raj , Lagaan is about the taxes collected from ordinary Indians by the Brits via the local rajahs. These taxes were obviously resented by the peasant farmers from whom they were collected; however, the situation is brought to a head in the village depicted in the film by the capricious rulings and casual cruelty of the commander of the local British garrison, Captain Russell. Due to a prolonged drought, last year’s taxes were late and less than usual, and the farmers can’t really afford to pay taxes at all this year; however, when the vegetarian local rajah refuses to eat meat proffered to him by Captain Russell, this year’s taxes are doubled. The villagers seek out the rajah (who’s visiting the British garrison) to beg for tax relief, and Captain Russell offers our hero (Bhuvan, a farmer who had recently been sabotaging the garrison’s hunting parties) a devil’s bargain : if the villagers can defeat the British garrison in a cricket match in 3 months’ time, the entire province will be exempted from taxes for the next 3 years. If the Brits win, however, the entire province will have to pay triple taxes.

The villagers are understandably peeved at Bhuvan for accepting Captain Russell’s wager without their consent; however, he gradually persuades them that it’s a risk worth taking.

Although cricket seems a lot like a ball game the villagers had all played as kids, it takes some tutoring from Captain Russell’s sister Elizabeth (who’s appalled at how unfair her brother has been) to bring the villagers up to speed on the rules of cricket. Elizabeth soon develops a crush on Bhuvan, which makes Bhuvan’s sweetheart Gauri jealous. On the other hand, Gauri herself has a second admirer, Lakha, who agrees to become a mole for the Brits on the villagers’ team in order to discredit Bhuvan (which is the only way he thinks Gauri will look favorably on him).

The time of the big 3-day cricket match arrives. The Brits are first up to bat, and Lakha flubs his catches the first day (among various problems the villagers’ team has then). Lakha’s treachery is finally discovered; however, when he begs for mercy from the village lynch mob, Bhuvan gives him a chance to redeem himself. The villagers’ team finally gets up to bat partway through the 2nd day of the match, and loses its best batters to strikeouts or injuries that day. The desperate villagers pray for a miracle at the local shrine that evening. On the third day of the match, the villagers’ team starts to catch up to the garrison team’s score; however, they are still 10 runs shy of a win going into the final 6 balls. A foul ball allows Bhuvan one last time up to bat, and the villagers’ team finally wins when Captain Russell inadvertently steps out of bounds to catch the last ball. Captain Russell is disgraced (his superior officers have ruled that he’ll have to make up the 3 years’ worth of lost taxes from his own private funds, and get transferred to central Africa, as well), and his sister Elizabeth finally realizes that she never had a chance of Bhuvan reciprocating her love when she sees Bhuvan and Gauri embracing immediately after the victory. The narrator tells us at the end that the local British garrison was disbanded, and Elizabeth died a spinster in England. Meanwhile, Bhuvan and Gauri had a big wedding, presided over by the local rajah; however, the legend of Bhuvan and the cricket match was lost in the pages of history.

I loved the music and songs; Don, however (who tolerated my quick plot summaries while the film was on), was more attracted to the history. (Neither of us are big sports fans, so cricket had us mystified, although it seems that knowing more about baseball wouldn’t have helped much.) There is a certain amount of “Brits bad, Indians good” in the film, although there are certainly plenty of more sympathetically-portrayed Brits in the film who oppose Captain Russell’s policies. One thing to look for (in both Lagaan and the Madness in the Desert making-of documentary), once you’ve seen some other Bollywood films (or at least YouTube clips of the songs from other Bollywood films), is how many Bollywood actors and actresses you recognize in Lagaan from their appearances in other films (the big Bollywood stars and character actors seem to keep popping up in film after film).

As I suggested earlier, the related Madness in the Desert making-of documentary is fascinating viewing in itself, and goes way beyond the information in the Wikipedia article about Lagaan. If you’d like to read more about Bollywood (both to understand the genre and to pick other films to watch next), there are a couple of e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store which can help: A Beginner’s Guide to Bollywood, Bollywood for Beginners: and the Best of Filmi Girl!, and Bollywood for Beginners: the Mini-Book, which is a cheap/free extract from Bollywood for Beginners. The dialogue and singing in Bollywood films is usually in Hindi, of course, but English subtitles are usually available and quite helpful, and the overall ambience of a traditional Bollywood film is somewhat reminiscent of classic Hollywood movie musicals (although this is less true in Lagaan, which is a better fit in the historical drama/sports film category). Lagaan was a huge hit among international audiences when it was released in 2001, and you may enjoy it, too!





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  1. Don, Not only will your wife spend no time in purgatory, she will be able to expedite the transfer of many from there to where she is. I would be very nice to her if I were you. Guy

    PS; Me too re Bride & Prejudice!

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