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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

"I'm serious. You beat us in this game, and I'll cancel your tax. But if you lose you'll have to pay triple tax, that is three times the lagaan. All right? Tell me. You accept the wager?"
- Captain Russell

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: February 01, 2002

Stars: Aamir Khan, Paul Blackthorne, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley
Other Stars: Yashpal Sharma, Amin Hajee, Aditya Lakhia, Raj Zutshi, Akhilendra Mishra, Sri Vallabh Vyas, Rajesh Vivek, Pradeep Rawat, Raghuveer Yadav, Daya Shankar Pandey
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 03h:44m:15s
Release Date: January 22, 2002
UPC: 043396079618
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-C-B+ B-

DVD Review

"The idea of a bunch of villagers in 1893 playing cricket to evade lagaan (tax) was not palatable on first hearing."-Aamir Khan, from the liner notes"What am I getting myself into?" I wondered several minutes into Columbia TriStar's Lagaan, cursing our former Indian film reviewer, Julie Fox, who I blamed for putting in my head even the inkling of a desire to see this film by producer-lead actor Aamir Khan. Fun and song and dance is all I can remember from her reviews (mostly of films she saw without subtitles!), but here I was choking on the early, dusty pace. Lagaan, the story of a small Indian village that comes together to challenge the might of their British oppressors in the late 1800s, takes nearly 20 minutes to hit the moment it changes from a drought (not dissimilar to the one taking place in the film) to a feast of sport, comedy, romance, drama, intrigue, and yes—abundant song and dance. "When I read the entire developed version of [the director's] script, I realized what he had in mind. That's when I saw the potential of the film. I was quite impressed so I decided to do the film, and then went a step ahead and decided to produce it." - Aamir Khan, from the liner notesThe year is 1893, and a drought has overcome British-occupied India for over a year. The British claim payment for protection of the provincial Rajahs in the form of lagaan, or tax, a yearly portion of the farmers' rice and grain crops. The farmers pay the Rajahs, who take their share and pass the rest on to the British. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The provincial commander, Captain Russell (Blackthorne), a stereotypically nasty, arrogant Brit with a sporty superiority complex, insists that the local Rajah pay him double lagaan this year to balance the half-lagaan allowed the year prior. With an unforeseeable end to the drought, this is a near impossible request, and it leaves the villagers begging for a reversal to avoid starvation. But when the villagers interrupt a game of cricket to plead with the Rajah (who is observing the game) to forego the lagaan, the stakes are quickly raised. Bhuvan, an impetuous young man from the village, has already come face to face with the captain during an incident involving the former's protection of the local wildlife from the latter's sport hunting. Caught in the act, the Captain threatens his life. When Bhuvan calls the game of cricket "stupid and silly"), Russell challenges Bhuvan: beat the British at a game of cricket and be spared lagaan for 3 years, but if they lose then pay triple—and face almost certain death. The villagers plead with Bhuvan to remain silent, but he can't, and takes up the captain's challenge. Lagaan is a looooong movie, clocking in at nearly 4 hours. When you think of an epic film the words "cricket" and "musical" don't necessarily come together—unless performing a word disassociation excercise—but that's exactly what you get with this Indian "Field of Dreams—the Musical," with its touch of Rocky (see the "chasing hens" scene, in particular) and the pastoral feel of say, Fiddler on the Roof. The film is simply fun to watch. Once you've seen the wonderful scene where Bhuvan tries to convince the town they can learn to play cricket, you will have to watch to see if they can pull off the "Al Michael's Miracle." And what of the beautiful but shy Gauri? Will Bhuvan figure out she is in love with him, or will he run off with Captain Russell's sister, Elizabeth, who decides to help the villagers behind her brother's back, because of her attraction to Bhuvan and her sense of fair play? Will Gauri gouge out Memsahib's eyes first? Will the rest of the villagers sort out their personal and caste issues in order to form a team bond to defeat the Brits? The acting is wonderful, in particular the love triangle of Khan as Bhuvan, Singh as Gauri, and Shelley (Photographing Fairies) as Elizabeth. Khan, a big star in India I understand, is as good here delivering Bhuvan's dramatic stance as he is brilliant in his teasing of Singh's Gauri; the give and take between the two are the highlights, for sure. I have a problem with spoofy performances, but Blackburne's Russell grows on one, and proves more than sufficiently spiteful and cruel. One part of the lengthy deleted scene shows Russell receive dual comeuppances, and it is a shame his reaction to Bhuvan's was left on the editing room floor, although understandable, since it might have thwarted appropriate character progression. The supporting cast is large and very good.Prior to the DVD release of My Fair Lady, I would not have called myself a fan of the musical, but there are films such as that and Lagaan that respark one's interest in the genre. Most of the lipsynching here is near miraculous, with the many expansive, panning shots throughout the musical numbers, which in many instances I found to be engaging, unique, inventive... but I am but a newcomer to Indian musicals. Still, to get the lipsynch so accurately when the camera pans over to a moving actor leaves me wondering how many takes some of these might have required to get it right (it did take 5-1/2 months of shooting). As opposed to some musicals, I never felt that the numbers here were out of place... especially at their long running times (around 5 minutes a piece). Instead, the numbers work to move the plot along, and meaningfully engage the audience in the plight of the characters or the decision-making processes (at times under peer duress). The wild, undulating Krishna/jealous Radha dance juxtaposed to the formal, sedate British dance is certainly the highlight amongst the many numbers, and helps contrast the emotional qualities of the two peoples.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: If there is a disappointment with the disc it is here. The source print used was not very clean, and it appears Columbia felt this title was too obscure to spend money cleaning it up. It is marred with speckling, artificating, a line down the middle left at 11m:10s (which dances for 01m:08s across the screen and reappears until the reel change), another green-hued scar appears at 43m:47s and more at 45m:06s, and goop at 45m:24s... you get the idea. Although, with the exception of a couple of poorly lit outdoor scenes (shame on god!), contrast is good, and the color saturation generally excellent, bringing out the colorful reds of the British uniforms and the red, green, orange and yellows of the Indian sarees. Black level is good, but some night scenes appear on the gray side. A lovely film, but an often frustrating visual experience. The Rajah is not pleased.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Lagaan includes only the Hindi and English DD5.1 track, not separate Hindi and English tracks or the DS2.0 transfer promised erroneously in the back cover specs. Good. Frankly, the last thing this movie needs is a muddy DS2.0 track, or worse, a butchered English dub to support lazy American viewers who will most likely never choose this disc for rental or be reading this review. The dialogue is clear and seemingly understandable. The front soundstage is expansive, fooling me into thinking that there was voluminous surround activity going on, but this is not the case. The surrounds are used slightly for atmospheric effects, and occasionally enhance the musical score and numbers with a somewhat gimmicky, but effective "echoing" effect, for lack of a better term. Still the track relies heavily on excellent blending of the discreet channeling across the fronts with minor amounts of LFE. The Rajah is pleased.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 52 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Portuguese with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: There aren't many supplements on this disc. There are filmographies for the director and main stars Aamir Khan, Paul Blackthorne, Gracy Singh, and Rachel Shelley, but no bios. There is the usual Columbia assortment of subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Portuguese, but strangely, not in Hindi. It should be mentioned for widescreen viewers that the subtitles often appear below (and ocassionally above) the frame. There is an excellent set of 52 scene cues (well, the film IS nearly 4 hours), accompanied by static pictures.There is, however, the inclusion of an extended deleted "scene" (17m:43s!), that contains some of the same material from the film with a much different set of events from the finished version. Some of this cut is wonderful (another scene where Bhuvan teases Gauri about Elizabeth, the interesting face-off between Bhuvan and Russell I mentioned above), and some sequences cut most likely because they slightly or wholly alter the perception of or among the characters. Very interesting, and it keeps me thinking how some of this version might have altered the experience of the film. The majority of the grade rests here.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

I can't help it, I loved this movie. I have watched it nearly 3 times this month... and I cannot wait to watch it again. It's just plain fun (once you get through the first 15-20 minutes). If foreign films, cricket, Indian song and dance numbers, and romantic, period dramedies are your thing, you are in for a treat. If not, you are in for a surprise. Highly recommended, despite the middling transfer. The Rajah orders Lagaan for all of his minions.


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