Sunday, December 18, 2005

Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India


Dir: Ashutosh Gowariker (Swades)

Bollywood entry into the underdog sports film genre. Often cited as a "If you want a good intro to Indian movies, start here" film. Being able to say that I have now seen such a film is the best part of what is otherwise a trite story of sticking (wicketing?) it to the man.

Indian superstar Aamir Khan lives in a village lorded over by the British. When the villagers are unable to pay the increased tax (lagaan) during a drought, the egotistical Capt. Russell makes a wager (for no real reason, mind you, but without the wager there is no movie). If the villagers can win a game of cricket, they will be excused from the tax; lose, and the tax is tripled. There are various subplots, including the Capt.'s sister falling in love with Khan, and a villager falling in love with Khan, and the whole world falling in love with Khan. But almost all of the movie is devoted to the cricket match itself.

In the process of developing the Bad News Bears story, the almost four hour film quite literally deploys every single sports cliche that I can think of. Just a brief example; the misfit who has the cricket equivalent of the bottom-of-the-ninth-two-out at-bat is a deformed Untouchable. This movie is not fooling around in sticking to the formula; you name it, it is there in spades. The love story(ies) as well suffered from both predictability and a lack of character development. People fall in love because the plot needs them to, not for any reason that seems to make sense. The movie is completely and totally populist, preventing it from rising above the status of "Major League." Not bad, but not "The Natural" either.

The famous musical numbers, I have to say, were disappointing as well. The Indian singing style was quite nice to listen to. But the songs themselves did nothing to advance plot or character. And the choreography was surpringly lackluster. They were big production numbers, though, and the spectacle of the whole thing was interesting. But in the end, this is a mediocre musical meeting a cliched sports movie. Not awful, by any means; but hardly something to go out of one's way to see.

One thing I was watching for was how the film would handle the training of the village cricket team. Even at 3 hrs 45 mins, would the director need some device to show how they got better? The director chose to show a lot of things happening at once, remind everyone of what's going on, and with every shot you show a little improvement, to show it all would take too long. That's called a montage. But that's OK. Even Rocky had a montage. (Did I mention every single freaking sports cliche there ever was is in this film?)



Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 12/19/2005 02:10:00 AM that...

You mention The Natural....

maybe this is heresy, but I am angry that they change the ending from the book to the movie. I really think it makes a lot of the other parts of the movie not really fit well at all. More to come later when I am able to screen it for the first time in a while.  

Blogger ronvon2 noted on 12/19/2005 02:26:00 AM that...

Did he get dirt kicked in his face?

Well, Bollywood makes no apologies for ripping off American film cliches. They have the freedom to do it, but it costs them a buck o five.  

Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 12/19/2005 02:45:00 AM that...

are you familiar with Malamud's ending?