Friday, June 18, 2010

Bollywood Time: Lagaan

So this movie magazine world wide web site Empire posted this totally rad list titled "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema." I love looking at lists like this even if it's a constant reminder that I am not nearly as cultured as I think I am. I've watched a LOT of movies - but from this list, I can only claim to have seen 17 in full. If somebody shows this list to Bristol Palin, and her number is 18 or more, I will kill myself.

But two of my favorite Bollywood movies made this list - Lagaan and Devdas. I'll save Devdas for another day and focus on Lagaan. Here we go:

If I wanted to, I could scare you away from watching Lagaan (2001) with one quick sentence: "It's a 4 hour movie about taxes and cricket that takes places during the period of British colonial rule over India." But I do not want to scare you away from watching Lagaan! Even if it is a four hour movie about taxes and cricket that takes places during the period of British colonial rule over India.

But Lagaan is such an epic and beautiful movie. And Lagaan has something everybody loves, and that is an "underdog sports" story. Hoosiers. Rudy. Teen Wolf. We never tire of rooting for the little guy. Even when he's a wolf. Especially when he's the wolf. I don't know.

The point is, the more unlikely the victory of the underdog and the higher the stakes of said victory, the better this story formula works. That being the case, I would argue that Lagaan is the ultimate underdog sports story: Peasant villagers playing cricket against the fucking British Empire. On the line? Oh, basically the sovereignty of their entire nation. So like, big stakes, right?! Add to this the fact the peasants have never played cricket before. Their team is so rag-tag (including a crippled Untouchable) they make the Bad News Bears look like the New York Yankees.

So how does this peasant cricket team even learn to play the game, let alone get competent enough to play their British overlords? Well, from The L Word's Helena Peabody, of course! Everybody knows that lesbians are awesome at cricket. Actually, they learn from Elizabeth Russell (who is played by Rachel Shelley who went on to play lesbo Helena Peabody). Elizabeth is the sister of Captain Andrew Russell - the commanding British officer. He is a major dick to the Indian people just to be a dick, and Elizabeth is tired of watching his dick-like behavior. She also has a case of "masala fever" due to her mad crush on one of the villagers - a handsome young guy named Bhuvan (played by Bollywood superstar Amir Khan). To get back at her brother, and to get closer to that hunky peasant, she decides to basically sneak around to coach their team.
So their best hope is learning the game from a white lady in frilly dresses and a parasol who maybe has never even played the game! Also, hello total language barrier between coach and team! Success is so imminent, yes?

The actual cricket match is a doozy and takes up almost the whole second half of the film! But it is oddly watchable! Not once did I ever feel the urge to hit fast forward and watch them play the game Benny Hill style. Cricket isn't a game I'm terribly familiar with, but the movie does a pretty good job of using narrative to explain what the players are doing. Pretty soon you'll comprehend all the "wickets," "bowling," "quaffles" and "Golden Snitches" and whatnot.

I'm not going to tell you who wins because that would be spoiling it. But I already told you it's the ultimate underdog sports story, so stop being dense and watch Lagaan. And before you get all, "Oh, I just can't imagine watching such a long, long film," don't make me remind you how many times you've watched an entire season of America's Next Top Model in one "TV-on-DVD-binge" weekend. That's what I thought.


Meghan Sitar said...

It's a travesty that we haven't watched Lagaan together. I'm adding this as a goal on my five-year plan, right along learning how to sew and visiting every "Mystery Spot" in the continental U.S.

(Laura) said...

That is so awesome. I am honored. I will ALSO add this to my five year plan. Along with "Make five year plan."

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