Once upon a time, a powerful British Empire ruled over India. During this rule, the Indian civilians living in the many provinces had to pay lagaan, tax, to their foreign rulers. The tax consisted of a certain percentage of their harvest. In Once Upon a Time in India, we are taken to the year 1893 where in a small village we meet our hero Bhuvan (Aamir Khan). Times are tough as it is a month into the rainy season but not a drop of water has fallen from the skies, troubling their harvest. It doesn’t get any easier when they are forced to pay two times lagaan by their ruthless British ruler Russell (Paul Blackthorne). As they go to protest and try to change his mind, the villagers are challenged to a wager: if they can beat the British in a game of cricket, they don’t have to pay lagaan for the next three years. But if they lose they will have to pay three times the tax, basically meaning the end as they know it. Bhuvan accepts. Let the games begin.
Is it too early to call Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India a classic? I think not. The film is an absolute triumph of Indian cinema. It captured the hearts of many viewers worldwide when released in 2001, and it still does today. It got nominated for best foreign film at the Academy Awards, and received the critical acclaim it deserves. It is a touching story of putting everything on the line and the classic struggles of good against evil and right against wrong we are all familiar with in life.
The film takes its time but paces itself very well for its runtime that reaches close to 4 hours. Apart from the romance subplot, the film keeps its eye firmly on the main plot line: having to defeat the British in a game of cricket. Within the first 30 minutes of the film, we are introduced to the various colourful characters, lead by Aamir Khan as the strong Bhuvan. Next to his great performance, all characters manage to captivate. They make the film and keep you glued to your seat throughout its 4 hour journey. Paul Blackthorne is very entertaining in being a big meany as the British Captain, and it isn’t hard to cheer for the Indian heroes throughout it all.
Don’t let the runtime scare you off, as this is a fantastic motion picture you have to experience at least once. It might lose a bit of its tempo with some of the musical numbers but it never fails to entertain. Colourful, touching, and bursting with energy; Once Upon a Time in India is a modern classic. You don’t even have to be interested in cricket to enjoy the film, as by the time we arrive at the actual sport component of the story, you are all in for the ride. This is because we want these lovable characters to win, to triumph and to get the freedom and happiness they deserve.