June 15, 2010

Twelfth Man

The moment I realize - the date is 15th of June, I start thinking hard – whose birthday is it today, or some anniversary? There is definitely something special about it. And then, within seconds I recall. It has been happening every year for the past nine years – I welcome this day with a smile. It was on 15th June, 2001, that a film got released and changed the meaning of cinema for me. Today, we can safely call that a watershed moment in the history of Hindi cinema. This date is truly special.

Here is what Pritish Nandy had to say about Lagaan. “If Hollywood has any sense, it will get put its hands together and acclaim it as the film of the year… Our cinema history will now have two eras. Before-Lagaan and post-Lagaan. The standards of movie making will have to completely change. Lagaan has set the new standard... It is not just outstanding. It is spectacular. It is better than anything I have seen.”. Mind you, this review of his came just 5 days after the release of the film – long before it actually won acclaim at Locarno and later the Academy Awards. I am really amazed at this far-sightedness of Mr. Nandy. Just after the film's premiere, Rakesh Roshan had complimented Ashutosh Gowariker with these words: “Do you know what you have done? You have just created a masterpiece.” A filmmaker can realize better, what an epic of a film Lagaan was, in every aspect of cinema – aesthetic, economic, and more. There are friends who ask me – “OK, I realize it was a good film. But why do you rate it so highly?” I seriously want to prepare a paper, a detailed discussion on this film, to answer this question.

A few days ago, Empire Online released a list of the Greatest Non-English Language Films. Here is the list for the current decade (2001-2010). Bhansali’s Devdas is another film that finds a place in the top 20. This is not among the best of the top-movies lists, leaving out some truly great ones. But it has managed to appease me by ranking Amelie as the best movie of the decade. I have no doubts in accepting that. And although Lagaan could not make it to the top 10, it is the twelfth man anyway. Cheers!

1. Amelie (2001, France)
2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Mexico)
3. City of God by (2002, Brazil)
4. Spirited Away (2001, Japan)
5. Let the Right One In (2008, Sweden)
6. Oldboy (2003, South Korea)
7. Y tu Mama Tambien (2001, Mexico)
8. Infernal Affairs (2002, Hong Kong)
9. Waltz With Bashir (2008, Israeli)
10. 10 (2002, Iran)
11. Downfall (2004, Germany)
12. Lagaan (2001, India)
13. Persepolis (2007, Iran)
14. A Prophet (2009, France)
15. Ten Canoes (2006, Australia)
16. Hidden (2005, Austria)
17. Devdas (2002, India)
18. House of Flying Daggers (2004, China)
19. The Host (2006, South Korea)
20. Goodbye Lenin (2003, Germany)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. No, I am not writing that 'detailed discussion on this film' as to where its place belongs in Indian cinema. You are 'the' person here for that. What I am sharing below, however, is something intuitively experienced by me at a more primal 'audience' level.

    There are really a handful of films that I have really thoroughly enjoyed watching in the theaters (the last was '3 idiots'), and a fewer still, the memory of the first impact of watch (at the theater) of which still refuse to fade ('Black'). Movies that belong to the later league are esp. the ones that, apart from being damn good, carry the whole of audience's reaction unanimously and overtly together: standing ovation, cheering, clapping, crying, whistling & laughing out loud, booing etc. Typically, it is this infectious 'multiplication of emotive responses' that goes a long way in making my movie viewing experience truly memorable & great. And using this as a criteria, not to judge a movie, rather solely the viewing experience, for me, no movie has till been able to outdo the 'Lagaan' experience.

    Thats all your Honor, I rest my case. :)

  3. talking of the Lagaan experience , i cant but share a very recent one ...
    i was on my way to Darbhanga from Patna on one of those rickety and jampacked buses ..when the conductor was bullied with the usual chants of "cinema lagao" , he got a video rolling and it turned out to be Lagaan .it kind of made my day ..but within 5 mins there was a consensus that "ye kya laga diya hai ..hatao isko ..koi doosra cinema lagao "..
    luckily for me and for the movie , it was the only CD available in the bus ..and it took a few minutes but people settled resignedly to give it a go .. and believe me by the time the match started in the movie , every single guy in the bus had forgotten about the sweltering heat, the humidity or the suffocating crowd and for the vocal ones ,the initial scepticism seemed like a thing they were ashamed to own upto .. and then on the ride turned into an emotional and a very memorable experience ..the guy sitting beside me was reliving every ball to his semi-blind uncle in maithili .. and though the video was grainy , the sound quality was abysmal , i rate it as one of my best movie experiences ever .. power of good cinema in full glory !!!!

  4. @ priyadarshi: So well said. Just two days after my first viewing, I went for it again. Sat in the first row of PVR Priya. And sat at an angle, so that I could watch the faces of the audience as much as the film. The theatre was actually transformed to a stadium. And all that you describe above happened. I didn't know what was so great about the film then. I could just realize the hypnotic and magical power of cinema. Many, who doubt the brilliance of this film, have missed seeing it on the big screen. I feel sorry for them.

    @Atul: Wow! You have made my celebration of Lagaan's anniversary truly special.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. it had three heroes, Ahsu's direction, Rahmnn's music and then Amir Khan. i have seen people watching Lagaan in tea stalls like the legendary Ramayan...huge crowd, no business...only unblinking eyes on tv.

  7. interesting to know these illustrations on the impact of the movie...
    The great film-semiologist Christian Metz says: “A film is difficult to explain because it is easy to understand.”
    People have no idea why this movie is special. They love it anyway...