review for Lagaan: Once Upon a Time In India on AllMovie

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time In India (2001)
by Mike Cummings review

In this musical-drama set in central India in 1893, farmers led by a man named Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) rise up against an unjust British land tax called the lagaan. However, rather than resorting to violence, the farmers agree to settle the issue in a cricket match. If the Indians defeat the British, they pay no tax for three years. If they lose, they pay triple the tax under a condition imposed by a haughty British officer, Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne). Critics in the U.S. and abroad acclaimed Lagaan for the appeal of its story, characters, cinematography, and six rousing musical interludes. In America, it received an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. To be sure, the story is promising -- a kind of Gandhi-cum-cricket bat -- but the acting is generally melodramatic and even amateurish at times. Moreover, the script is too obvious in its appeal for audience sympathy for the underdog farmers. Although the cinematography bursts with color (as in a Kurosawa film, one critic observed), the oranges of the sunsets and the reds and yellows of the costumes capture only the moment, not the meaning of the moment. On the other hand, the music of A.R. Rahman and Javed Akhtar -- featuring classical and native rhythms, as well as a touch of jazz -- are enjoyable and no doubt a major reason for the popularity of the film. Unfortunately, whenever the music begins, the decibel level increases significantly, and the songs take on a lip-sync quality that impairs the film's immediacy and believability. Another problem is the length of the film: three hours and 45 minutes. The cricket practice goes on and on, ad nauseam. When the day of the big match finally arrives, there are no surprises. The viewer knows that this movie can end only one way. But at least it does end.