The perfect mix of cricket, Bollywood and patriotism



The only two commercial Bollywood films that have ever got an Oscar nomination are Mother India (1957) and Lagaan (2001).

The cricketing drama set in the 19th century took audiences by surprise when it released and remains popular around the world. This month the iconic film headlines an event at Fairfields Hall in Croydon where a screening will be accompanied by live music/dance performances, interactive cricket games, street food and other entertainment. In the coming months, this year’s official Indian Oscar entry Gully Boy will be trying to follow in Lagaan’s footsteps and get a nomination. Eastern Eye revisited Lagaan for an all you need to know A to Z.

A is for Auditions: A lot of future stars auditioned for Lagaan when they were relatively unknown, but were not selected and the biggest of these was Hollywood actor Gerard Butler.

B is for British: Lagaan had the highest number of British actors ever to be cast in a single Bollywood movie, with Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne having the most prominent roles.

C is for Costumes: Bhanu Athaiya, who had won an Oscar for Gandhi, was the costume designer of Lagaan and worked meticulously to make all the characters look authentic. She would win a National Film Award for Best Costume Design.

D is for Director: Ashutosh Gowariker had delivered two forgettable films as a director before Lagaan so struggled to find producers and a lead star for his ambitious epic. Luckily for him, Aamir Khan believed in the project and together they created history.

E is for Extras: Today large crowds are computer generated in films, but for Lagaan thousands of extras were drafted in from surrounding areas for the film to generate the required atmosphere. Over 10,000 were used for the final match.

F is for First Cut: The first cut of the film was 7 hours and 30 minutes long. It was eventually edited down to 224 minutes and gripped audiences.

G is for Gadar – Ek Prem Katha: Lagaan released on the same day as record-breaking film Gadar – Ek Prem Katha, which was also set in the past. Although the Sunny Deol starrer smashed cinematic records, Lagaan was also able to hold its own at the box office, which is very rare when a film released on the same day does so well.

H is for Honours: It may have not won an Oscar, but Lagaan swept the boards at the major award ceremonies despite having tough competition. This included eight Filmfare awards, nine IIFA Awards and an incredible eight National Awards.

I is for Inspiration: One of the inspirations for the themes tackled in the film was man versus machine drama Naya Daur (1957), which also revolved around villagers battling against the odds.

J is for Jump: The production grew more ambitious as the long shoot progressed and by the end, the overall budget had more than doubled, but luckily financiers had faith and it paid off.

K is for Khan: Although Lagaan will forever be associated with lead star and producer Aamir Khan, it was first offered to Shah Rukh Khan, but he turned the film down.

L is for Leading lady: The first choice to star opposite Aamir Khan was Rani Mukerji, but she was unable to do so because of other commitments. Then various actresses were considered, including Namrata Shirodkar, Ameesha Patel and Nandita Das, before Gracy Singh landed the coveted role.

M is for Music: AR Rahman delivered an award-winning collection of songs that added an extra layer to the movie. Later, the film’s songs would be sampled internationally, including M.I.A using Ghanan Ghanan in Matangi Mixtape and Solace sampling Mitwa for the track Innocent One.

N is for Narrator: Amitabh Bachchan narrates the movie, but wouldn’t share screen space with Aamir Khan until they starred together in the 2018 period adventure Thugs Of Hindostan.

O is for Oscars: Lagaan got an Oscar nomination, but lost at the ceremony to Bosnian film No Man’s Land. The stunning march at the Academy Awards opened a lot of international doors for Hindi cinema.

P is for Producer: Lagaan lead star Aamir Khan made his debut as a producer with the film. That would be the first step towards becoming a massively successful film producer. His successes since Lagaan include Taare Zameen Par, Secret Superstar and Indian cinema’s highest ever grossing film Dangal.

Q is for Quality: Apart from being a massive success with audiences, the film received rave reviews around the world, including from non-Indian media. It remains one of the best-reviewed Bollywood films globally.

R is for Rachel Shelley: The British actress didn’t understand Hindi, but managed to memorise and understand fellow cast members’ dialogues to understand the scenes better.

Rachel Shelley


S is for Spin-offs: There were various spin-offs connected to Lagaan produced, which included an award-winning documentary on its making, collector cards, a limited edition coin, a comic, colouring book and cricket board game. The Spirit of Lagaan – The Extraordinary Story of the Creators of a Classic book was also published.

T is for Trouble: The ambitious first-of- its-kind Bollywood film faced various challenges during production, which included sweltering heat that reached 48 degree centigrade, organisation of thousands of extras, injuries on set, a spiralling budget, poor accommodation and dealing with any overheads.

U is for Untouchable: One of the most beloved characters was Kachra, who hailed from the untouchable community and saves the day with his spin bowling. Aditya Lakhia played the role, which was one of the first in Bollywood to give so much respect to what is considered an untouchable community in India.

V is for Village: Champaneer, the village shown in the film, doesn’t actually exist. After scouting for locations in places such as Rajasthan and Nasik, the team zeroed in on the Kutch district of Gujarat, where it was primarily shot.

W is for Wives: Aamir Khan’s first wife Reema was executive producer on the movie and his future wife Kiran Rao, worked as an assistant director on the ambitious project.

X is for X Factor: The main reason Lagaan was a hugely successful film was because it managed to combine India’s three greatest passions – Bollywood, cricket and patriotism.

Y is for Yashpal Sharma: The sterling support cast included Yashpal Sharma. Like the rest of the cast members, he helped add an authenticity and described Lagaan as a great experience.

Z is for Zero: No other Bollywood film has been able to get an Oscar nomination since Lagaan achieved the incredible in 2002, and many other records achieved by the film remain intact.