With a backdrop of barren lands somewhere in Bhuj, Gujarat, Suhasini Mulay stands, draped in a shabby white cotton sari. She looks up at the scorching sun and her eyes squinted as she tries to look for traces of cloud on the sky. She wishes at least this year may the rain god bestow his blessings on the poor villagers.
Few feet above her, seated on a giant crane was the cinematographer Anil Camera. With his one eye closed and the other fixed on the viewfinder of the movie camera that directly points at Mulay, the cinematographer awaits for the perfect shot. In a few takes alone, he got what was needed. From behind a monitor, Ashutosh Gowarikar shouts “Okay” into the microphone and was greeted by a round of applause.
A host of the film’s cast and crew were standing behind the camera. Tahir Hussain and Nasir Hussain, the usually reticent AR Rahman, Aamir Khan’s then wife Reena Datta, his to-be wife Kiran Rao and Khan himself, were all waiting with their anxious eyes for the scene to unfold. Hugs and backslaps followed as the director shouted “okay” to the scene.
It was around 11 am on January 6, 2000 – when Ashutosh Gowarikar started the shooting for his debutant as well as most ambitious projects that would go on to become one of the greatest films in the history of Indian cinema and undoubtedly the biggest landmark movie in years to follow: Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India begun! Thus, a journey that later will go on to create a Magnum Opus was ushered!
This was the first time ever in Indian film industry that a star and director duo attempted for something that was most unconventional. The risk they took was the most unlikely one. They knew what they were set to achieve but how the generation would receive it was not known. At a time when the Indian film industry was engulfed by the cheap ideas of commercialization Amir Khan took the risk of thinking otherwise. He set out to create history with a star cast and crew who were not at all celebrated. With quite a few number of uber-talented Indian artists and foreign names in the list Amir make an impossible choice that none of the famous faces of cinema would adorn the silver screen for Lagaan!
Rumours were flying thick and fast that the producer and actor of the movie – Amir Khan has lost his head to have taken on to invest his money on a 90 minutes film that proceeded to what? A cricket match? Sports based films have traditionally bombed at Indian box office! But what followed was something that no one expected.
In weeks that followed after the release of Lagaan, the praise of the film spread like a wildfire. The period drama was narrated in the most untold fashion, something that nobody could expect. The imagery of the film caught on the fancy of audience and by audience I mean not only in India but it cajoled the worldwide audience with its sheer magnificence of simplicity!
The film was greeted with heart-warming applause and emotions at the most famous international film festivals across the world including Sandance, Cairo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Toronto. it went on the become eventually the first Indian film to receive a nation-wide opening in China and a nine-week golden run in Paris. Not less than 8500 people at Locarno film festival swayed to the melody of Rahman’s tune in Lagaan. Special screening of the Magnum Opus would be held in Russia.
Even after such a thundering run at box-office and the over-whelming success, perhaps the greatest achievement of Lagaan is that the film still continues to strike the innermost sensibilities of audience even 14 years after its release. It shakes off our innate paradigms to wonder in awe the how a batch 11 common-men mustered the courage to fight the British Empire at a time when many would have dared to bother them. Neither violence, nor non-violence, they were not influenced by any political ideologies neither were they inspired with the ideals of democracy. All they know was their land, their hardship, their people and their struggle in life which they had to liberate from the clutches of undue taxations. They dreamt of a simple life where they can live happily.
14 years down the lane, when the actors in Lagaan look back at their time, they say it’s not the film lovers across the globe alone, the film had tremendous influence in their individuals life as well. Released on June 15th 2001, the film created history that will be passed on as a tradition for years to come.
“Re Bhayiyan Chhuti Lagaan” – A chant that would go on to inspire filmmakers of tomorrow!