Here are a few facts about cricket you probably didn't know:
Matchfixing originated in a nondescript village called Champaner, in Central India, in 1893.
Bodyline bowling was NOT the brainchild of English captain Douglas Jardine, but of a certain Captain Russell, representative of the British Empire.
Australians are NOT the pastmasters of sledging. The British Imperalists were.
And if you thought Sri Lanka's Muthaiah Muralitharan redefined chucking, you have another think coming. It was a villager from Central India who should, by rights, take the credit for it.
His name is not particularly important.
What is important is that it all began with Lagaan: Aamir Khan's Rs 250 million, two-years-in-the-making extravaganza. What is also important is that the film is an exercise in shrewd conviction.
But before the exercise, here's the film.
A drought-stricken village, Champaner. The Rain God seems to be frowning on its villagers. With no rain for the crops to prosper, all the villagers can do is look heavenwards for absolution.
Lightning strikes. In the form of the Raja's people, who announce dugna lagaan (double tax). All because the Raja being the strong-principled vegetarian he is, refused to eat meat with a British captain.
The villagers are stumped. Only one among them, Bhuvan, is foolhardily idealistic enough to accept a dare from the captain: Win a cricket match against the fearsome British team and be exempt from lagaan for three years. Or stand to pay tiguna lagaan (three times the tax).
In his escape to victory, Bhuvan garners a few homegrown talents, the poultry owner, a deaf mute, an untouchable, a Sikh, a Muslim, even the village rebel. The heavens do their bit and send Bhuvan an emissary in the form of Elizabeth, Captain Russell's sister. She offers to teach the villagers the game of cricket.
The 'bat'tle begins.
And the team that wins, going by the audience reaction at least, is Aamir Khan Productions.
And that's the exercise. Which redefines one Indian film credo: hope against hope. Because no matter what the odds against him and his villagers, Aamir Khan's Bhuvan chooses to remain positive. He'd rather cherish the hope of winning and being exempt from the hateful lagaan for three years than face the prospect of losing and paying tiguna lagaan.
Never mind that Aamir once rejected director Ashutosh Gowariker's story, he did finally come round to realising that he could have a possible winner with a few elements. Namely, the Indian villager-British Imperialist clash, the Indians' love of song and dance.
And the clincher: the Indian fanaticism for the game of cricket.
The film just might succeed. And a huge chunk of the credit will go to Aamir's Eleven.
So what if the said eleven hog a whole 60 screen minutes, playing a quaint game of cricket in which there are no real rules? Seldom will you see hour-long climaxes in a film.
Lagaan is the 'proud' trendsetter, in that sense. The reason it might click, is probably thanks to Aamir Khan's shrewd judgement. We are a cricket-mad country, after all.
What better way to couch it in than a fight for justice?
Other pluses? Rachel Shelley (Elizabeth). She is convincingly fresh -- even while madly declaring (in song), "I am in love!". It's obvious she has worked very hard on her pidgin Hindi. Though how Elizabeth manages to converse in Hindi 24 hours after she reaches Champaner is anybody's guess.
One also wonders what sent Aamir into a huff recently, when Rachel Shelley narrated her experience with the unit, in The Guardian. The reason cited was that she had blurted out important chunks of the dialogue of the film.
"Haan Bhuvan, main tumse pyaar karne lagee hoon," the said important chunk, is conspicuous by its absence.
A couple of the songs deserve mention. The well-choreographed Radha kaise na jale, Mitvah, sun mitvah and Ghanan, ghanan, in that particular order.
Speaking of which leads to debutante Gracy Singh and her role in the Lagaan scheme of things. As far as roles go, Gracy's Gauri is of strict window dressing value. Good for some romancing and a couple of songs, absolutely great for a dance.
Though as an artiste, Gracy could do well with less of her eager facial contortions and hone her admittedly good enunciation and emoting to perfection.
Of the rest of the cast, Raghuveer Yadav as Bura, the poultry owner, and Yashpal Sharma as the village baddie, stand out.
Technically, the film has many brownie points. A R Rahman's music, Anil Mehta's cinematography (even though some obtrusions to the eyes exist in the many jerky pans), Bhanu Athaiya's costumes and Nakul Kamte's sound.
Minuses? Honestly, the script. But then, what is one to say about a film which exhausts its plot in the first two hours and 40 minutes, and devotes an hour to a cricket match?
But what a match. Here's a film where you have its every thrilling feature exaggerated in melodramatic detail -- run-outs, no balls, sledging, chucking, overthrows, catches (that win matches) spin bowling... and, of course, fours and sixes galore.
Film-makingwise, this film's a googly. But the man of the match, literally as well as (perhaps) BO verdict, is Aamir Khan. Watch it, but watch it ONLY in a cinema hall.
All you wanted to know about Lagaan
The long, not short, of Lagaan
One contribution isn't enough
'A true actor can play any role'
Where time stands still...
'I just like to do films'