Prashant, who writes a very good blog, was the first to call my attention to "Lagaan," an excellent movie from 2001. The picture, which received an Academy Award nomination as best foreign film, is available on DVD.
“Lagaan” is the story of a group of local lads from a farming village in 1893 who are challenged by the British military leader of the province to play a cricket match against his men. The stakes set by this arrogant officer are high: win the match, and he will suspend the taxes for the village and all the villages in the region for three years; but lose, and the taxes will be tripled.
Once challenged, there is no way to back out. Even if the British call off the game, the taxes will go up.
The man who sparks the challenge is Bhovan, a young farmer played by Aamir Kahn. Kahn, who also co-produced the film, is a superstar. He not only is a good, intense actor, but also a very physical actor. And he can sing and dance.
The singing and dancing comes into the movie several times, sort of like rock videos inserted into the film. While I found them unusual at first, they are very easy to take, move the story forward, and are a nice reminder that movies like “Lagaan,” even with its serious theme of occupation and oppression, are also entertainments.
The large cast of "Lagaan" includes the beautiful Gracy Singh, playing Gauri, Bhovan’s girlfriend, Paul Blackthorne as the arrogant Captain Russell, and Rachel Shelley as the officer's sister, Elizabeth, who secretly helps Bhovan and his team learn the game. Another standout actor in the film is Rajesh Vivek as Guran, the village soothsayer and fearsome crazy man with his wild beard and ferocious eyebrows. In fact, the whole cast is excellent under the direction of Ashutosh Guwariker.
The movie builds to the big, tense showdown between Bhovan and his ragtag team facing the experienced team of British officers. “Lagaan” is a big, glossy, well-done film, and at nearly 3 ½ hours, it never felt a minute too long. This one is well worth the time to find and watch.
(For more overlooked films, please see Todd Mason's blog.)