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|June 21, 2001||
Phew, what a movie!
What makes a great movie? A great story? A powerful script? Brilliant performances? Imaginative direction? Remarkable cinematography? What about music? In India, music and choreography are also critical since we love watching song sequences. Drama? Emotions? Thrills? Production values? Heart-stopping, power-packed scenes? What happens when you have them all in one movie? Is it possible for anyone to make such a movie?
If you had asked me this question last week, I would have said: Possible, yes, but unlikely.
The perfect film is what everyone aspires to. But, in reality, it is never made. I have seen hundreds, if not thousands of movies in my life: different kinds of movies made in different parts of the world in different languages. In fact, I edited and published Filmfare for several years and this forced me to see many movies -- good, bad and pretentious.
The Illustrated Weekly, which I edited and published for almost a decade, also carried path-breaking cover stories on the movies. The first was on Guru Dutt, in whose work we managed to revive huge interest. The next was on Smita Patil who we welcomed as India's finest actress. We were the first mainstream magazine to put on our cover young Aamir Khan, then two films old, as the star of the future. We were also the first to acclaim Subhash Ghai as the great showman, long before the industry took him seriously. We called Madhuri Dixit 'number one' two full years before the industry acknowledged her as such.
On looking back, we never made a single mistake during the magazine's decade-long dream run. Certainly not when it came to the movies. Every seemingly outrageous claim we made came true. Largely because we believed in them. Because we stuck out our necks and said it in an environment where everyone was stingy with praise. For most critics here believe that fulsome praise for a commercial film is politically incorrect. So they stick to snooty criticism or pretentious, smart-arsed comments. The Illustrated Weekly succeeded because we were the first mainstream magazine to believe in popular movies when everyone else was rooting for fashionable art cinema.
Today, that distinction has vanished, thank God! What you have now is not commercial cinema versus art cinema. It is good cinema versus bad cinema. And that is how it should be.
A great movie is one where all the elements listed in the beginning of this column work in perfect tandem. A great movie does not belong to any star, it does not belong to its director, it does not belong to its screenplay writer, it does not belong to its music director. It belongs to all of them together. It is flawless teamwork. A bit like cricket. And, last week, I saw flawless teamwork in this amazing movie, Lagaan.
No exaggeration. It is possibly the finest movie I have seen in my life and, believe me, I have seen some very fine movies. From Battleship Potemkin to Citizen Kane to Giuseppe Tornatore's cult film Cinema Paradiso to Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy to Gone with the Wind to Kaagaz ke Phool, one of my own favourites, to the hugely over-rated Sholay to Titanic. But I have never seen a movie quite like Lagaan. It took my breath away by the sheer simplicity of its narrative, the amazing performances, the great music and, what holds it all together, truly awesome direction by a film-maker I had never even heard of.
Between Aamir Khan, the producer, and Asutosh Gowariker, the director, they have not only made a great movie by any standards, but they have created a work that will go down in the annals of cinematic history.
Too much praise you think? Watch the movie yourself. No praise is enough to describe Lagaan. It is the first film I have seen that deserves 100 in a scale of one to nine. What makes me doubly proud is that it is produced by the world's biggest dream factory, which has been neglected for far too long, obsessed as we all are by the hoopla of Hollywood. Lagaan can easily challenge anything made out there.
The last two years have seen history being rewritten. First came Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful, which won an Oscar for the best film. Not the best foreign film, mind you, but the best film. Then came Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, my own favourite. It also won an Oscar nomination for best film even though the dialogues were all in Chinese and most of the world saw it in a sub-titled version.
Now comes Lagaan. If Hollywood has any sense, it will put its hands together and acclaim it as the film of the year. This time, from India.
The trade pundits, I am told, have already acknowledged the movie as a hit. It is being compared with Sholay as a milestone. Forget Sholay; it is bigger and better than anything that the Indian movie industry has ever produced. 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. Correctly marketed, it can easily take on Gone with the Wind or Titanic or any such movie produced anywhere in the world. It is not just outstanding. It is spectacular. It is better than anything I have seen.
It takes nerves of steel to go out on a limb and write such extreme praise. But then, Lagaan is an extreme film and deserves extreme recognition.
Congratulations, Aamir Khan. Move over, James Cameron. Asutosh Gowariker has arrived. Pritish Nandy
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