"Lagaan" is a Hindi musical-drama that successfully mixes characteristics of both genres from two very diverse cultures. What's genuinely fascinating is how director Ashutosh Gowariker follows the basic, linear structure of a Hollywood film while incorporating the stylish and often rhapsodic musical numbers of Bollywood musicals. Like the landlord-evicting-poor-tenants or greedy-developer-wiping-out-a-small-town scenarios, it's the Regular Folk against the imperial arrogance of the East India Company in this variation, and the film exploits the abuses of the British to keep the locals focused, and motivated; it's the lone, snide commander who ultimately risks his career (and pocketbook) when he cheekily wagers triple taxes, or 3 years no taxes for the entire province.
The wager inevitably brings disparate and oddball characters together, and though the Britishers are very one-dimensional (making them constant targets for reams of hysterical invective), the villagers ground the film, with the overall cast delivering strong, highly sympathetic performances.
Columbia's transfer is very, very nice - the anamorphic transfer preserves the wide scope cinematography, with the print showing occasional nicks during reel changes. "Lagaan's" visuals are absolutely stunning: the compositions evoke the wide panoramas of Fox' classic CinemaScope productions; a rich panorama of earth tones, reds, and fiery amber - beautifully photographed at day or night - soothes the eyes; the film's $6 million budget also means every person you see perched on a mountain or dancing in the immense crowds is not a CGI creation.
The musical numbers (there aren't as many as you'd think) are pretty effective, benefiting from a crisp sound mix and razor-sharp editing; whether an ode to love, ode to Nature, or spiritual-based, there's a level of energy and honesty which is thoroughly engaging.
At almost 4 hours, "Lagaan" IS long - there's an intermission break for hungry viewers - but Columbia's DVD is a solid presentation of a movie that most likely would have been tough to find in the cinemas. Oddly, the English dialogue is also subtitled, and short plot explanations pop up during the first half, often repeating facts the dialogue clearly conveyed already.
Extras include short director and cast filmographies (some bio material would have been preferred, since most of the cast is unknown to western audiences), and a deleted 17 minute segment, that was ultimately compacted in the final film. (The deleted material is anamorphic, and contains a finished sound mix as well.)
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan
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