Friday, February 1, 2013

Lagaan

and other things, not of this land...
Poster for the Film
Lagaan
Okay, we're talking Bollywood here. For those who dinna ken what that is, here ya go, courtesy (of course) of Wikipedia -

Bollywood is the informal term popularly used for the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), Maharashtra, India. The term is often incorrectly used to refer to the whole of Indian cinema; however, it is only a part of the total Indian film industry, which includes other production centers producing films in multiple languages. Bollywood is the largest film producer in India and one of the largest centers of film production in the world. 
Bollywood is formally referred to as Hindi cinema. There has been a growing presence of Indian English in dialogue and songs as well. It is common to see films that feature dialogue with English words (also known as Hinglish), phrases, or even whole sentences.

No doubt you're wondering what sent me down this particular path. Well, once upon a time, many moons ago we had a very good friend from India, via Bahrain. Of course, that's a much longer story than I'll go into here, with many a subtle nuance and intriguing twist. But like I say, that particular tale is for another time.

Suffice to say this particular story involves the movie Lagaan and our dear friend Reshma. Now once upon a weekend, Reshma had an idea that we'd eat Indian cuisine and watch an Indian movie. Now the Missus Herself and I had no problem at all with this, being world travelers of some renown and connoisseurs of many things not of our own native lands. (Mine being the US of A, hers being the Republic of Korea.) The WSO and the Nuke were still in college back in those days. But they were (and still are actually) military brats, so foreign ways were not strange to them. They also figured it might be fun.

So dinner and a show it was!

Now there was a bit of a twist to all this. The movie was in Hindi, and as there were no more copies at the movie place in Worcester with subtitles of an English nature, Reshma would have to interpret for us. Not a big problem. I've watched many a foreign film with a complete lack of subtitles and managed to enjoy myself. (Though one film I watched recently had no subtitles and the actors were speaking Chinese, English, German and Japanese. Not all at once mind you but things did get confusing from time to time.)


Okay, no English, no problem. Then Reshma asked if we knew anything about cricket.

"Like the bug, which makes a chirping noise? Or the sport played in foreign lands which no American is remotely capable of understanding? Even though, or perhaps because, it was invented by the English." I queried.

"Uh, that would be the sport of cricket." Reshma answered. "But not to worry, let's eat and I'll explain cricket to you."


"Uh, not to be a bother. But why do we need to understand cricket?" I wondered aloud.

"Pretty much the movie is about a cricket match." she explained.

Okay, at that point I was really intrigued.

So Reshma gave us the 30-minute introduction to cricket. We finished our dinner (which I might add was very good, though I forget exactly what it was, I know it involved rice, curry and naan) and proceeded to the TV room for to watch the movie.

So here's a brief synopsis of the movie, again courtesy of Wikipedia -


Lagaan takes place in the small village of Champaner, now in the State of Gujarat, in western India during the height of the British Empire in India in 1893. Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne), the commanding officer of the Champaner cantonment, has imposed high taxes ("lagaan") on people from the local villages which they are unable to pay due to a prolonged drought. Led by Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), the villagers beg Raja Puran Singh (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) to help them. He tells them that much to his regret, he is also bound by British law. 
It is after their visit to the Raja that the people of the village first witness a cricket match. Bhuvan mocks the game and gets into a fight with one of the British officers. Taking an instant dislike to Bhuvan, Russell offers to cancel the taxes of the whole province for three years if the villagers can beat his men in a game of cricket. If the villagers lose, however, they will have to pay three times the amount of their normal taxes. Bhuvan accepts this wager on the behalf of all villages without their consent. When the other villagers find out about the bet, they are furious with Bhuvan. He argues that it is important for everyone to fight against British rule. 
Bhuvan thus begins to prepare the villagers for the match. He initially finds only five people willing to join the team. He is aided in his efforts by Russell's sister Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley) who feels that her brother has mistreated the people in the villages. As she teaches them the rules of the game, she falls in love with Bhuvan, much to the anguish of Gauri (Gracy Singh) who is also in love with him. After Bhuvan reassures Gauri of his feelings for her, the woodcutter Lakha (Yashpal Sharma) becomes enraged as he is also in love with Gauri. In an attempt to discredit Bhuvan, Lakha offers himself as a spy for Russell and joins the villager's team in order to destroy it. Eventually, as the villagers realise that winning equals freedom, and as a few of them are insulted by the British, they join the team. Still short one player, Bhuvan also invites an untouchable, Kachra (Aditya Lakhia), who can bowl leg spin. The villagers, conditioned by longterm prejudice against untouchables, refuse to play if Kachra joins the team. Bhuvan chastises the villagers, leading them to accept Kachra.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. The second part of the movie is the game between the villagers (the good guys) and the British (the bad guys). It was pretty well done and actually exciting. Cricket is interesting if you know what's going on.

Spoiler Alert: If you plan on actually renting this movie, skip to the video.

(The good guys win, they don't have to pay taxes and it starts to rain. Aamir gets the girl, happy ending. Go to credits. And yes, I think Gracy Singh is hot. Smokingly so. YMMV)


That, by the way, is my favorite song from the film, Mitwa. One weekend, Reshma came to visit and actually helped us with some renovations to the palace. Did I mention that she'd given me the soundtrack to Lagaan on CD, no? Well, she had done that. While we worked we played the CD. She was somewhat impressed that I could sing along with Mitwa. I didn't know what the words meant but I'm a quick study and pick up the rhythm of a language pretty quickly. (For what it's worth, Hindi is a very cool-sounding language.)

So there we were, putting down flooring and singing in Hindi. Reshma and I were having a jolly good time. The Missus Herself? Not so much. Not that she doesn't like the music, it was more what I was doing to the music. For, much to my infinite sadness, I don't sing very well. Oh, I can bellow out a marching song with a great deal of volume, but something more delicate? Not my forte, if you will. But we did have fun. Singing while one works does make things a bit easier I guess. (I'm thinking next time I'll do a sea shanty, perhaps this one - 



Ooh, I like that, I like it indeed. But we're way off topic at the moment. "Helm, hard left rudder, get us back on course!"

"Hard left rudder - Aye! Getting back on topic - Aye!")

'Tis time to reveal another aspect of the Old AF Sarge. I like Indian music. I know that's kind of a broad category. I know there are lots of nuances and such, different types, blah, blah, blah. Hey, I said I liked it, I didn't say I was an expert. 'Kay?

I learned to appreciate other cultures rather early in life. Which is kind of odd, considering that I grew up in a small town in Vermont. A pretty white-bread kind of place. Then again, we had a large Polish population in my home town, so it's not like we were all a lot of folks from the British Isles like many small New England towns.


But that's not the point. One of my absolute favorite teachers of all time was a man of Chinese descent, John Wu. He was my social studies teacher in two separate grades in junior high school (for that's what they called it back then).

He made sure we learned about other cultures. Oddly enough, you'd think we would've learned a lot about China, considering Mr. Wu's ancestry. But no, India was the thing. The history, the food and the music. Ah, the music. Like this -


I could listen to the sitar and the tabla for hours on end (and actually have, but again, that's another story). While the Beatles may have introduced me to Ravi Shankar, it was John Wu who gave me an appreciation for Indian culture.

Suddenly I feel the urge to be off with the morning tide. Weigh anchor, set sail and be off over the horizon for unknown lands and exotic foreign shores. Someplace warm, methinks.

It's supposed to snow here.

Argghhh!*

*With apologies to the Donovans.

7 comments:

  1. Cricket is interesting if you know what's going on.

    Umm... no. No, it's NOT. Unless there's a tap or two at the cricket ground. I know from whence I speak, having a small horde of Brit friends who tried their damnedest to convert me. Those taps were all that saved a totally wasted day (DAYS, actually).

    You sure covered a lot of ground here. I like Indian food (a LOT), the sitar (in small doses), and what few Bollywood films I've seen.

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    1. I guess the cricket thing is definitely a YMMV thing. Though I can understand your point, having been an eyewitness and all.

      Oddly enough, Lagaan is one of my favorite movies, perhaps more for the memories than anything else.

      I guess this was another of my "international" posts. You may recall I did Japan a while ago.

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  2. Wow, thanks for the Wu memory. He was a tough teacher, made me work way more than I wanted to. He told us that the US would never win the Vietnam War. He said that the West did not understand that Asians put a completely different set of values on human life and that the US did not understand their methods of war. This was sometime 1966 or'68. Maybe he should been working with Pentagon....

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  3. I wrote this last pm when I was tired, perhaps better said like this: someone with knowledge of Asian warfare should have been guiding US war policy. I commented a while back about war- get the job done and go home. Vietnam was like the old story of cutting the cat's tail off one inch to a time, EXCEPT with far more casualties.

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    1. Yeah, John Wu was a hard-ass in many ways. But he understood the whole "Asian land war" thing. Probably would've been giid to have a few guys like him advising the morons in the White House. Nixon was the only one who sort of understood war. LBJ, not a frickin' clue.

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  4. Joyce and I like to watch those Bollywood movies; we'll have to check this one out.
    That said, although I love baseball, I'm afraid I don't like Cricket. At all. I've tried to get into it a couple of times, but failed miserably.

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    1. I enjoyed the movie, a lot. The music even more.

      Cricket is not a sport I would follow. But I found it somewhat interesting. Of course, I also like haggis, doesn't mean I'd eat it more than once a year. (And then only on Burn's Night!)

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