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Once Upon a Time in India
Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker
Produced by Aamir Khan
Jhamu Sughand
Written by Ashutosh Gowariker
Kumar Dave
Sanjay Dayma
K. P. Saxena (dialogue)
Narrated by Amitabh Bachchan[1]
Starring Aamir Khan
Gracy Singh
Rachel Shelley
Paul Blackthorne
Music by A. R. Rahman
Cinematography Anil Mehta
Editing by Ballu Saluja
Distributed by Aamir Khan Productions
Sony Pictures Classics
Columbia Tristar
Release date(s) 15 June 2001[2]
India, United Kingdom, United States
Running time 224 min
Country India India
Language Hindi
Budget Rs. 250 million[3]
Gross revenue Rs. 389 million[4]

Lagaan (Hindi: लगान; Urdu: لگان; translation: "Land tax"), also known as Lagaan: Once upon a time in India, is a 2001 Bollywood feature film made in India. The film, based on an original story by Ashutosh Gowariker, was also directed by him. It was produced by Aamir Khan, who plays the lead role, and stars Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne in supporting roles.

The movie is set in the Victorian period of the British Raj and revolves around the peasants from a barren village who are oppressed by high taxes imposed by the British. When the peasants attempt to persuade the officers to reduce the taxes, the officers put forth a proposition to the peasants. One senior officer offers to cancel their taxes for three years if their village team beats him at cricket. After accepting his proposition, the villagers face the arduous task of learning the game and playing for a result that will change their village's destiny.

The film received critical acclaim and awards at various international film festivals, as well as many Indian film awards. It also became the third Hindi-language film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film after Mother India and Salaam Bombay!. It was one of the biggest hits of 2001 while its DVD sales were the highest ever for a Bollywood movie up to 2007.[5]



Lagaan takes place in the town of Champaner, Central India during the height of the British Empire in India in 1893. Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne), the commanding officer of the Champaner cantonment, has imposed high taxes ("lagaan") on people from the local villages which they will be unable to pay due to a prolonged drought. Led by Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), they beg Raja Puran Singh (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) to help them. He tells them that much to his regret, he is also bound by British law.

It is after their visit to the Raja that the people of the village first witness a cricket match. Bhuvan mocks the game and gets into a fight with one of the British officers. Taking an instant dislike to Bhuvan, Russell offers to cancel the taxes of the whole province for three years if the villagers can beat his men in a game of cricket. If the villagers lose, however, they will have to pay three times the amount of their normal taxes. Bhuvan accepts this wager on the behalf of all villages without their consent. When the other villagers find out about the bet, they are furious with Bhuvan. He argues that it is important for everyone to fight against British rule.

Bhuvan thus begins to prepare the villagers for the match. He is aided in his efforts by Russell's sister Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley) who feels that her brother has mistreated the people in the villages. As she teaches them the rules of the game, she falls in love with Bhuvan, much to the anguish of Gauri (Gracy Singh) who is also in love with him. After Bhuvan reassures Gauri of his feelings for her, the woodcutter Lakha (Yashpal Sharma) becomes enraged as he is also in love with Gauri. In an attempt to discredit Bhuvan, Lakha offers himself as a spy for Russell and joins the villager's team in order to destroy it. Still short one player, Bhuvan also invites an untouchable, Kachra (Aditya Lakhia), who can bowl a leg spin. The villagers, conditioned by longterm prejudice against untouchables, refuse to play if Kachra joins the team. Bhuvan chastises the villagers, leading them to accept Kachra.

The second half of the film focuses on the match itself. On the first day, Russell wins the toss and elects to bat, giving the British officers a strong start. Bhuvan brings Kachra into the match only to find that Kachra has lost his ability to spin the ball. In addition, as part of his agreement with Russell, Lakha deliberately drops many catches. During the evening, however, Elizabeth sees Lakha meeting with her brother. She races to the village and informs Bhuvan of Lakha's deception. Rather than allow the villagers to kill him, Bhuvan offers Lakha the chance to redeem himself. The next day the British score almost 300 runs, losing only three wickets by the lunch break. As part of his promise to Bhuvan, Lakha takes a diving one-handed catch which sparks the British batting collapse. Kachra is brought back to bowl and takes a hat trick.

The villagers soon start their innings. Bhuvan & Deva (a sikh, who has played cricket earlier when he was a British sepoy) give their team a solid start. Deva misses out on his half-century when a straight -drive from Bhuvan ricochets off the bowler's hand onto the stumps at the non-striker's end, while Deva was backing up too far. When Lakha comes on to bat, he is hit by a bouncer on his head, and he falls on to his stumps. Other batsmen get out trying to score boundary off each delivery. Ismail (Raj Zutshi), a good batsman, retires hurt as he is hit on his leg. The villagers' team ends the day with 5 batsmen out of action with less than half of the required runs on board.

On the final day, Bhuvan passes his century, while most of the later wickets fall. Ismail returns to bat with the help of a runner & reduces the required runs to a gettable total. The game comes down to the last over with Kachra on strike. He knocks the ball a short distance and manages a single. The umpire signals no ball leading Bhuvan to swing extremely hard at the next ball. Captain Russell backpedals and catches the ball, leading him to believe the British team has won. However, Russell has caught the ball beyond the boundary which gives the win to Bhuvan's team. At that moment, the drought ends as a rainstorm erupts.

Bhuvan's defeat of the British team leads to the disbanding of the humiliated cantonment. In addition, Russell is forced to pay the taxes for the whole province and is transferred to Central Africa. After realizing that Bhuvan loves Gauri, Elizabeth returns to London. Heartbroken, she remains unmarried for the rest of her life. Bhuvan marries Gauri at a large wedding.


  • Aamir Khan as Bhuvan. Ashutosh first thought of having Shahrukh Khan and Abhishek Bachchan for the role of Bhuvan. Khan suggested the name of Aamir for the role, while Bachchan chose to enter cinema with J. P. Dutta's Refugee (2000). It was only after this that Aamir was approached with the idea.[6]
  • Gracy Singh as Gauri. Several actresses had offered to act in the film, but Aamir needed someone who matched the description of the character given in the script. After considering Sonali Bendre, Nandita Das, Rani Mukerji and Amisha Patel for the role,[7][8] Ashutosh selected Gracy Singh for the female lead because he was convinced that she was a good actress and dancer. Singh, a newcomer, devoted all her time to the film.[9]
  • Rachel Shelley as Elizabeth Russell.
  • Paul Blackthorne as Captain Andrew Russell. Since the script also demanded a British cast, Ashutosh and Aamir hired Danielle Roffe as one of the casting directors.[10] After Danielle and Ashutosh screen-tested many, Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne were chosen for the prime roles. Overall, the film cast 15 foreign actors.[11]
  • Suhasini Mulay as Yashodamai.
  • Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Raja Puran Singh.
  • Raghuvir Yadav as Bhura, the poultry farmer. Yadav was selected based on his performance in Earth (1998). He had undergone an appendicectomy operation in-between the filming schedule and returned to complete some of his scenes.[12]
  • Rajesh Vivek as Guran, the fortune teller. Vivek was spotted by Ashutosh in the film Junoon (1978). His liking for cricket helped him in his role.[13]
  • Raj Zutshi as Ismail, the potter. Zutshi's friendship with Aamir and association in several films brought him the role after the auditions.[14]
  • Pradeep Rawat as Deva, a Sikh sepoy. Rawat's association with Aamir in Sarfarosh (1999) brought him the role of Deva which was initially intended for Mukesh Rishi. Rawat claimed that it was the highest ever compensation he received in his career.[15]
  • Daya Shankar Pandey as Goli, the man with the largest piece of land. Pandey, who preferred the role of Kachra, was known to Aamir and Ashutosh through previous films (Pehla Nasha (1993), Baazi (1995) and Ghulam (1998)). Pandey credited Ashutosh for his acting in the film, saying that Ashutosh and he would discuss the required emotions and expressions before shooting.[16]
  • Shri Vallabh Vyas as Ishwar, the vaidya (doctor) in the village and Gauri's father.
  • Yashpal Sharma as Lakha, the woodcutter. Sharma was chosen by Ashutosh after his portrayal in Samar (1999). He said it was a good experience working with Aamir and Ashutosh during the film.[17]
  • Amin Hajee as Bagha, the mute drummer. Hajee earlier worked in a film with Ashutosh. The friendly association brought Ashutosh to him with the script, which he liked, and thereafter he successfully auditioned for his role. His knowledge of mute people and some assistance from a music band helped him better prepare for his role. Ashutosh, who believed that Amin was like Sylvester Stallone, would refer to him as Stallone during filming.[18]
  • Aditya Lakhia as Kachra, the untouchable. Lakhia's association with Ashutosh in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1993) and Pehla Nasha (1993) brought him this role. He read the book Everyone Loves a Good Drought by P. Sainath to better understand and portray his character. To get the distinct tanned look of the respective characters, the cast were asked to lie down under the sun.[19]
  • Javed Khan as Ram Singh, Indian who works with British and helps Elizabeth in translating villagers language.




Director Ashutosh Gowariker has stated that it was almost impossible to make Lagaan. He first put forth the idea to Shahrukh Khan who was not able to do the film and recommended Aamir Khan. Gowariker then went to Aamir, who agreed to participate after hearing the detailed script. Even after securing Khan, Ashutosh had trouble finding a producer. Producers who showed interest in the script wanted budget cuts as well as script modifications. Eventually, Aamir agreed to Ashutosh's suggestion that he'd produce the film.[20] Aamir corroborated this by saying that the faith he had in Ashutosh, the story and script of the film,[21] and the opportunity of starting his own production company inspired him to produce Lagaan.[22] He also said that by being a producer himself, he was able to give greater creative freedom to Ashutosh. He cited an example:

"If the director tells the producer that he wants 50 camels, the latter will probably say, 'Why not 25? Can't you manage with 25 camels?' Whereas, if he is telling me the same thing… I will not waste time asking him questions because I am also creatively aware why he needs them."[9]

Jhamu Sughand co-produced the film because he liked the emotional and patriotic story.[23]

Location, language and costumes

Ashutosh Gowarikar panning the camera for a good angle in the barren landscape of Champaner.

One of the first members to join the production team was Nitin Chandrakant Desai, the art director, with whom Ashutosh set out for extensive location hunt throughout India, to find the setting for the fictional town of Champaner, in the late 1998. After searching through Rajasthan, Nasik, UP, they zeroed in on an ancient village near Bhuj, located in Gujarat's Kutch district, by May 1999, where the film was primarily shot.[11] The script demanded a dry location; an agricultural village where it had not rained in several years. To depict the 1890s era, the crew also required a village which lacked electricity, communication and automobiles.[21] Kutch faced the same problems at that time and hence the village of Kanuria, located a few miles away from Bhuj, was chosen. During the filming of Lagaan, it did not rain at all in the region. However, a week after the shoot finished, it rained heavily bringing relief to Bhuj, which had a lean monsoon the previous year.[7] This typical old Kutch hamlet was built by the local people four months before the arrival of the crew. They erected 56 small houses, many of them boongas (round-shaped huts), that were common in ancient Kutch. A village mukhiya (head), a blacksmith and other such people occupied these houses. A temple was specially built on a hill, with Lord Krishna as its deity.[11] At the end, all the female members of the crew and cast were presented with pieces of Kutchi embroidery made by the womenfolk of Bhuj.[7] The 2001 Gujarat earthquake devastated this region and displaced many locals. The crew, including the Englishmen, contributed monetarily to their cause by donating Rs. 2.5 million, with further contributions during the year.[24]

Avadhi, which is a dialect of Hindi, is primarily from a region in Uttar Pradesh. This was chosen to give the feel of the language spoken during that era. However, the language was diluted so that modern viewers could understand it.[9] The dialogues, which were a combination of three different dialects (Avadhi, Bhojpuri and Brajbhasha) were penned by Hindi writer K. P. Saxena.[7]

Bhanu Athaiya, an Oscar winner for Gandhi, was the costume designer for the film. With a large number of extras used in the film, it was difficult for her to make enough costumes. She spent a lot of time researching to lend authenticity to the characters of the film.[7]


Pre-planning for a year, including ten months for production issues and two months for his character, was tiring for Aamir. As a first-time producer, he obtained a crew of about 300 people for six months. Due to the lack of comfortable hotels in Bhuj, he hired a newly-constructed apartment and furnished it completely for the crew. Security was set up and a special housekeeping team was brought to take care of the crew's needs.[22] Most of the 19th century tools and equipment depicted in the movie were lent to the crew by the local villagers. Initially, they did not want to part with their equipment, but after much coaxing, they gave in. They then traveled to different parts of the country to collect the musical instruments used in that day and era.[22]

During the shooting, Ashutosh suffered from a slipped disc and had to rest for 15 days. During this period, he had his bed next to the monitor and continued with his work.[25]

The filming schedule spanned across the winter and summer commencing early January and finishing in mid-June. This was physically challenging to many with the temperatures ranging from 0 - 50 degrees Celsius.[14][18] The actors had to drink frequently and sit in the shade.[13][15] The schedule was strict. The day began at 6 a.m., changing into costumes and getting onto the actors' bus, which took them to the sets in Kanuria. The actors, including Aamir, all travelled on the same bus. If anyone missed it, it was up to them to reach the sets. One day, Aamir was late and missed the actors' bus that took them to the sets. That day, his wife Reena, the executive producer, reprimanded him for being late. She told him he had to set an example for the rest of the crew. "If he started coming late, how could she tell the others to come on time?"[15] While on the sets, the actors were given call sheets with the day's timetable such as breakfast, hair styling, make-up, costumes, etc.[26]


Before its worldwide release, Aamir Khan kept a promise to screen the film to the locals of Bhuj.[27] The film made it to the U. K. Top 10 after its commercial release.[28] The film, which was the first Indian film to have a nationwide release in China,[29] had its dubbed version released in Italy.[30] With favorable reviews from the French press, the movie premiered in Paris on 26 June 2002 and continued to have an unprecedented nine weeks of screening with over 45,000 people watching the movie.[31] It was also released in United States, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa and the Middle East with respective vernacular subtitles.[30][32] The film garnered a cumulative of $2.5 million at the international box-office[2][33] and Rs. 38 crores at the domestic box-office.[34]

In 2001, Lagaan had a world premiere at the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) weekend in Sun City, South Africa.[35] The Locarno International Film Festival authorities published the rules of cricket before the film was screened to a crowd which reportedly danced to its soundtrack in the aisles.[36] Lagaan was shown four times due to public demand as against the usual norm of showcasing films once at the festival.[30] It subsequently won the Prix du Public award at the festival.[37] After the film's publicity in Locarno, the director, Ashutosh Gowarikar said that distributors from Switzerland, Italy, France, Netherlands, North Africa, Finland and Germany were wanting to purchase the distribution rights.[30] Special screenings were held in Russia, where people were keen to watch the film after its Oscar nomination.[38]

Apart from these screenings, it was also screened at the Sundance Film Festival,[39] Cairo International Film Festival,[40] Stockholm International Film Festival,[41] Helsinki International Film Festival[42] and the Toronto Film Festival.[43]


The film received a number of positive reviews. As of 24 January 2010, Rotten Tomatoes has given it a 95% rating with 93 fresh and 12 rotten reviews. The average score is 7.9/10.[44] Derek Elley of Variety suggested that the film "could be the trigger for Bollywood's long-awaited crossover to non-ethnic markets".[45] Somni Sengupta of the New York Times, described it as "a carnivalesque genre packed with romance, swordplay and improbable song-and-dance routines"[46] Roger Ebert gave the film three and half out of four stars and said, "Lagaan is an enormously entertaining movie, like nothing we've ever seen before, and yet completely familiar… At the same time, it's a memory of the films we all grew up on, with clearly defined villains and heroes, a romantic triangle, and even a comic character who saves the day. Lagaan is a well-crafted, hugely entertaining epic that has the spice of a foreign culture."[47] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian described the film as, "a lavish epic, a gorgeous love story, and a rollicking adventure yarn. Larger than life and outrageously enjoyable, it's got a dash of spaghetti western, a hint of Kurosawa, with a bracing shot of Kipling."[48] Kuljinder Singh of the BBC stated that, "Lagaan is anything but standard Bollywood fodder, and is the first must-see of the Indian summer. A movie that will have you laughing and crying, but leaving with a smile."[49] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times argued that the film is "an affectionate homage to a popular genre that raises it to the level of an art film with fully drawn characters, a serious underlying theme, and a sophisticated style and point of view."[50] Sudish Kamath of The Hindu suggested that, "the movie is not just a story. It is an experience. An experience of watching something that puts life into you, that puts a cheer on your face, however depressed you might be."[51] The Times of India wrote, "Lagaan has all the attractions of big-sounding A. R. Rahman songs, excellent performances by Aamir Khan… and a successful debut for pretty Gracy Singh. In addition, there is the celebrated David vs Goliath cricket match, which has audiences screaming and clapping."[52]

Ashutosh Gowarikar (in white) posing with directors of the other nominated foreign films at the 74th Academy Awards.

Lagaan was also listed as number 14 on Channel Four's "50 Films to See Before you Die" and was the only Indian movie to be listed.[53]


Aamir Khan and Gowariker, went to Los Angeles to generate publicity for the Academy Awards. Khan said, "We just started showing it to whoever we could, even the hotel staff."[54] About India's official entry to the 2002 Oscars, The Daily Telegraph wrote, "A Bollywood film that portrays the British in India as ruthless sadists and Mafia-style crooks has been chosen as Delhi's official entry to the Academy Awards."[55] It added that the film was expected to win the nomination.[55]

On 12 February 2002, Lagaan was nominated for the best foreign language film at the Academy Award nominations ceremony.[56] After the nomination, Khan reacted by saying, "To see the name of the film and actually hear it being nominated was very satisfying".[57] Post-nomination reactions poured in from several parts of the world. The USA Today wrote "Hooray for Bollywood, and India's Lagaan".[54] With Sony Pictures Classics distributing the film and Oscar-winning director Baz Luhrmann praising it, Lagaan had a chance to win.[54][58] The BBC commented that the nomination raised Bollywood hopes that Indian films would become more popular in the US.[59] In India, the nomination was celebrated with news reports about a win bringing in "a great boost for the Indian film industry"[60] and "a Bharat Ratna for Aamir Khan and the status of a 'national film' for Lagaan".[61]

When Lagaan lost the award to the Bosnian film No Man's Land,[62] there was widespread disappointment in India. Khan said, "Certainly we were disappointed. But the thing that really kept us in our spirits was that the entire country was behind us."[63] The Oscars were also criticised. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt said that the "American film industry was insular and the foreign category awards were given just for the sake of it."[63] Gowarikar added that "Americans must learn to like our films".[64]

The film won a number of national and international awards including seven National Film Awards,[65] nine Filmfare awards,[66] and ten IIFA Awards.[67] Apart from these major awards, it also won awards at other national and international ceremonies.


Lagaan: The Official Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack by A. R. Rahman
Released 6 April 2001[68]
Recorded Panchathan Record Inn
A.M. Studios
Genre Feature film soundtrack
Length 43:08
Label Sony BMG
Producer A.R. Rahman

The Los Angeles Times said that the "songs and dances are not mere interludes inserted in the action, bringing it to a halt—a Bollywood trademark—but are fully integrated into the plot and marked by expressive, dynamic singing and dancing that infuse a historical drama with energy and immediacy."[50] A review of the tracks suggests that "the music is true to the time period (the British Raj)".[69] Another review said: "A. R. Rahman is again at his prodigious best. His score for Aamir Khan’s period drama Lagaan is a delectable blend of Indian classical music, folk melodies and jazzy snazzy tunes."[70] The soundtrack earned A. R. Rahman his third National Film Award for Best Music Direction and the track Mitwa earned Udit Narayan the National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer. It also won several other music awards.

Track # Song Singer(s) Length Lyrics
1 Ghanan Ghanan Udit Narayan,Sukhwinder Singh, Alka Yagnik, Shankar Mahadevan, Shaan, Chorus 6:11 Javed Akhtar
2 Mitwa Udit Narayan, Sukhwinder Singh, Alka Yagnik, Srinivas 6:47 Javed Akhtar
3 Radha Kaise Na Jale Asha Bhonsle, Udit Narayan, Vaishali, Chorus 5:34 Javed Akhtar
4 O Rey Chhori Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, Vasundhara Das 5:59 Javed Akhtar
5 Chale Chalo A. R. Rahman, Srinivas 6:40 Javed Akhtar
6 O Paalanhaare Lata Mangeshkar, Udit Narayan, Chorus 5:18 Javed Akhtar
7 O Paalanhaare Lata Mangeshkar, Sadhana Sargam, Udit Narayan 5:18 Javed Akhtar


There were two releases for the DVD. The first, as a 2-DVD set, was released on 27 May 2002 in limited regions. It contained subtitles in Arabic, English, Hebrew, Hindi, Turkish and several European languages. It is available in 16:9 Anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, progressive 24 FPS, widescreen and NTSC format. It carried an additional fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, filmographies and trailers.[71]

The second was released as anniversary edition three-disc DVD box after six years of the theatrical release. This also included Chale Chalo which was a documentary on the making of Lagaan, a curtain raiser on the making of the soundtrack, deleted scenes, trailers, along with other collectibles.[72] After its release, it became the highest selling DVD in India beating Sholay (1975).[5]


In the anniversary DVD edition, a National Film Award winning documentary, "Chale Chalo - the lunacy of film making", 11 collector cards, a collectible Lagaan coin embossed with the character of Bhuvan, a 35 mm cinemascope filmstrip hand-cut from the movie's filmstrip were bundled together with the film.[72]

A comic book, Lagaan: The Story, along with two coloring books, a mask book and a cricket board game were subsequently released to the commercial market. The comic book, available in English and Hindi, was targeted for children between the ages of six and 14. At the book's launch, Aamir Khan said that they were keen to turn the film into a comic strip during the pre-production phase itself.[73][74]

The cricket bat which Bhuvan used to score the winning runs in the film, was auctioned for six million Pakistani rupees as a fund raiser for a cancer hospital in Lahore, Pakistan.[75]

Book on the making

In March 2002 a book titled "The spirit of Lagaan - The extraordinary story of the creators of a classic" was published. It covers the making of Lagaan which describes in detail the setbacks and obstacles in developing the film from a concept to the end product.[76]


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  76. ^ Google Books Preview: "The spirit of Lagaan - The extraordinary story of the creators of a classic"; by Satyajit Bhatkal; Published by Popular Prakshan Pvt. Ltd.; ISBN 81-7991-003-2 (3749)

Further reading

  • Bhatkal, Satyajit. The Spirit of Lagaan. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 1995. ISBN 81-7991-003-2.

External links

Preceded by
Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai
कहो ना प्यार है
Filmfare Award for Best Film
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Vanathai Pola
National Film Award for Best Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment


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