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Film / Lagaan

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Lagaan (Tax) is a 2001 Academy Award-nominated Bollywood epic set during the British Raj in India. When the residents of a drought-stricken small village cannot pay their taxes (lagaan) to the British, a young man, Bhuvan, is offered a bet by the British Captain: if they can win a cricket match against the British team, he will cancel their taxes for three years. If they lose, they must pay triple. Bhuvan, to the horror of his fellow villagers, accepts the challenge, pointing out that without rain, the taxes would ruin them either way.

Bhuvan must then make a competent cricket team out of a rag-tag group of villagers. In the meantime, he catches the eye of the captain's good-natured sister, Elizabeth, which greatly upsets his childhood friend Gauri.

A rare example of a sports story about Cricket, and in 19th-century India at that. Its soundtrack, of course, mainly comprises Filmi Music.

Has nothing to do with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, although one character is named Guran.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Accidental Athlete: Who knew farming could prepare some people to play cricket?
  • Aristocrats Are Evil:
    • Russell, and how! His senior officers are more complex; they want to get as much tax out of the territory as they can and are afraid of other provinces getting a similar idea or even open rebellion, but they also tell Russell that they expect him to pay the lagaan out of his own pocket should his team lose, rather than stepping in to force the province to pay.
    • Averted with the rest of the higher-ups. Elizabeth is genuinely upset with her brother's actions (and in love with The Hero) and helps the villagers by teaching them how to play cricket; the Raja hates Russell as much as anyone (but takes pains to conceal it); the referees are completely impartial; and the rest of the Brits graciously applaud the Indian villagers when they win the match.
  • Authority in Name Only: The Maharaja definitely gives off this vibe due to British Imperialism. Regardless, his people still love him.
  • The Bet: Russell makes one with Bhuvan (and, by extension, the villages)—if the Indian team wins the cricket game, then the villages will not have to pay the lagaan for three years. However, if the British team wins, then the villages will be punished with paying three times the lagaan that year.
  • Beta Couple: Supporting characters Bagha (the mute drummer) and Jigni (Gauri's best friend) serve as this to the main leads Bhuvan and Gauri.
  • Betty and Veronica: Gauri is the Betty to Elizabeth's Veronica for Bhuvan's Archie: Gauri is a farm girl from Bhuvan's village and has been friends with him since childhood, while Elizabeth is a high class lady from England. In the end, the "Betty" wins.
  • Big Game: The last third of the film. For a movie running a quarter shy of four hours, that's saying something.
  • The Big Guy: Bagha, who also doubles as a Gentle Giant.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Guran, of course. Also Bagha, who turns into this on the rare occasions he opens his mouth.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Around fifty minutes into the film, Kachra, the crippled Untouchable, makes a brief appearance collecting straw when Bhuvan and Tipu first try to convince the other villagers to form a cricket team. Over an hour later, Kachra not only becomes the Indian team's spinner, he's also accepted into the village thanks to Bhuvan.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Bhuvan and Gauri have known each other since they were children, and they become an Official Couple halfway through the movie.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Russell takes advantage of Bhuvan's team's inexperience during the game. He's not above making people cry or bleed either.
  • Crowd Song: Essential, being a Bollywood film. Averted with "O Rey Chhori."
  • Death Glare: Jigni gives one of these to Bhuvan after he talks to Elizabeth in private, because it brought Gauri to tears.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Gender Inverted. Upon realizing that Bhuvan only loves Gauri, Elizabeth returns to England, and the film's ending reveals that she remains unmarried for the rest of her life. Considering this is set in Victorian Britain, that's saying something.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The sole reason why Russell wants the villagers to pay double the taxes (prior to The Bet he makes with Bhuvan) is because the Raja refused to eat meat when Russell kept pestering him to do so, despite knowing full well that the Raja is a vegetarian.
  • Down to the Last Play: The game comes down to a final bat. Interestingly, thanks to Cricket Rules, the villagers win because Captain Russell catches the ball out of bounds.
  • The Dragon: Technically Russell's entire team, but special mention goes to Yardley, who bowls the ball straight at his opponent's body head. Twice.
  • Evil Colonialist: Duh, and Capt. Russell is one of the worst of the lot in this case. He threatens the village with triple tax if they lose the cricket match to the British, though he does give something of a "sporting chance"—however little—by promising three years without taxes, for the entire province, if by some miracle the Indians win. What really drives home his meanness is him beating the shit out of Arjan for hurting one of the Army horses while shoeing him, and—of course—trash-talking the village team, which some of his teammates naturally engage in too. Most of the other British actually come off as pretty reasonable. Russell's senior officers are outraged at his playing fast and loose with the law and making a mockery of the British Government (though admittedly it's mostly because they're afraid other provinces will have the same idea about avoiding taxation) and make it clear to him that if his team loses, he'll have to pay the three years of taxes, as opposed to their stepping in and forcing the province to pay. Not to mention his own sister Elizabeth who actively coaches the village.
  • Expy: Kachra the disabled spin bowler is one of the famous leg spinner Bhagwath Chandrasekhar who overcame a debilitating childhood polio affliction to become a very dangerous spin bowler.
  • Fair-Play Villain: Capt. Russell can be quite the dick, threatening double or even triple the usual taxes for the village, but he at least gives them a sporting chance by promising to waive the entire province's taxes for three years straight if the Indian locals defeat the British at a cricket match. This he even does at great personal risk to himself and his career—exactly what happens when the Indians win. Then again, he likely didn't expect them to win and simply had his bluff called.
  • Fighting for a Homeland: A major theme is the deep conflict between the British and the Indians being resolved not with a war, but a simple cricket game.
  • First Girl Wins: Gauri has been in love with Bhuvan since they were children, and he reciprocates her love right before they sing "O Rey Chhori."
  • From the Mouths of Babes:
    Gauri: Tell me this, Bhuvan. Why's that White witch ready to help you?
    Tipu: (after meeting Elizabeth only once) Simple. She took a fancy to brother Bhuvan.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Lakha is jealous of Bhuvan because they both love Gauri and she only has eyes for Bhuvan. This causes Lakha to act as The Quisling during the first day of the match, in order to make Bhuvan look bad in front of Gauri and the other villagers. He comes to his senses later.
    • Downplayed with Gauri, who's jealous of Bhuvan spending time with Elizabeth but doesn't do anything to sabotage their friendship in any way. After Bhuvan assures her that he loves her, she treats Elizabeth much more cordially, to the point where they share a tearful hug when the latter leaves the village with the rest of the British higher-ups.
  • Happy Rain: Subverted in the beginning after the film's first song "Ghanan Ghanan." Played Straight in the end after the Indian cricket team wins.
  • Heart Is Where the Home Is: Played With. When Elizabeth confesses her love to Bhuvan, she does so in English. He doesn't reject her; in reality, he neither understands what she said nor sees her as a Love Interest anyways. In the very next scene, he tells Gauri (his childhood friend from their village) that he's the man she's going to marry from Guran's fortune. He and Gauri sing about their mutual love in the subsequent song "O Rey Chhori", and the film's ending reveals that they eventually have a splendid wedding.
  • Imaginary Love Triangle: Gauri anguishes over Bhuvan spending time with Elizabeth, knowing that the Englishwoman is also in love with him. In reality, Bhuvan is completely oblivious to Elizabeth's feelings and merely sees her as his team's cricket teacher. Much to Gauri's joy and relief, Bhuvan has only ever loved her.
  • Improvised Training: The inexperienced Indian cricket team chases chickens and the like. Half of their special skills originate from ordinary tasks that they do in their day jobs too.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The villagers have never heard of cricket before being challenged to the game, and, until they learn how to play, seem to mostly regard it as a silly English thing. In modern India, cricket is the most popular sport in the country and a national pastime, so local viewers would find this quite amusing.
  • Kick the Dog: In Russell's first appearance, he shoots a rabbit just to make a point. This is after he made Bhuvan believe that he was going to shoot him.
  • Large Ham: Guran is pretty much the Indian version of BRIAN BLESSED. He has No Indoor Voice, a beard that would make Hagrid proud, and most of his dialogue consists of very creatively cursing the British. To their faces. In fact, GURAN deserves the capitalization as much as BLESSED.
  • Life Isn't Fair: Captain Andrew Russell puts the Indian villagers in an impossible position — play a cricket game (a sport they have little to no experience in) against an experienced team and win to avoid taxes for the next three years, or lose and pay three times that amount. Elizabeth, his much more sensible younger sister, calls him out on this:
    Elizabeth: This isn't fair, brother.
    Russell: So is life.
  • Magnetic Hero: Downplayed with Bhuvan. He's already friendly with everyone in his village, but it takes more than half the movie for him to convince ten other men to come together and become a cricket team. Also, while Bhuvan is friendly towards Lakha, it's not mutual—Lakha hates him because they both love Gauri and she only loves Bhuvan. He comes around towards the end.
  • Miracle Rally: What happens after the first day of the game. 322 runs is a lot of ground to cover.
  • Mood Whiplash: During the song "O Rey Chhori", we cut from Bhuvan and Gauri singing in Hindi, as per regular Bollywood, to Elizabeth singing in English. Her lyrics, and the entire setting for them, are very reminiscent of a Disney movie.
  • Never Give Up Speech: Or rather, song, in the form of the National Film Award-winning "Mitwa."
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Although Bhuvan is The Hero and by far the MVP of the game, his play is not flawless. Notably, he bats the ball into Deva's wicket, and pushes the middle-aged doctor Ishwar beyond his endurance limits (each time resulting in a lost wicket).
  • Once Upon a Time: The film is given the subtitle "Once Upon a Time in India" in international releases.
  • Opposing Sports Team: A bunch of mean, racist British soldiers.
  • Pet the Dog: Captain Russell's love for his younger sister Elizabeth is one of his few redeeming qualities.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The team of villagers Bhuvan puts together include The Speechless drummer (Bagha), a wild Fortune Teller (Guran), the rich guy (Goli), the village doctor and father of Bhuvan's Love Interest Gauri (Ishwar), a poultry farmer (Bhura), The Blacksmith (Arjan), a Muslim potter (Ismail), a woodcutter (Lakha), a Sikh former Sepoy (Deva), and the village's crippled Untouchable (Kachra).
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The higher-ups threaten to send Russell to a desert in Central Africa if he loses. Ouch.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: It's every sports movie you've ever seen, IN COLONIAL INDIA! With SINGING!
  • Rule of Three:
    • The stakes of the villagers losing the match are raised from double to triple Lagaan.
    • The stakes of the villagers winning the match are raised from cancelling that year's tax, to two years, to three years.
    • The match is played over three days.
    • Kachra gets three batters out.
  • Save Our Team: However, instead of a coach, the villagers get the opposing team captain's sister, who helps them learn how to play the game primarily because she has the hots for Bhuvan.
  • Shout-Out: On the British cricket roster, you have lieutenants Smith and Wesson.
  • Small Town Rivalry: Bhura and Goli have one of these that stems from Goli's sons pestering Bhura's chickens, and both being too Hot-Blooded to handle it reasonably. They become Fire-Forged Friends once they join the Indian cricket team.
  • Training Montage: Played Straight, but including yoga on mountaintops, in the song "Chale Chalo."
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Sort of, although the villagers already have some knowledge of cricket, having played a similar Indian game as children.
  • Type Caste: The villagers threaten to quit the team entirely just because Bhuvan wants Kachra, an Untouchable who can spin the ball when bowling, to join the team as their eleventh and final member. Bhuvan touches the Untouchable and then lectures the villagers until they relent.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Naturally.
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: Lakha performs a Heel–Face Turn and Bhuvan lets him back on the team.