The cricket match between the natives and the colonial powers takes up the last one hour of the lengthy movie. During the course of the match the built up suspense and anxiety resolves itself. In other words, the cricket match, with so much at stake for both sides serves as a perfect backdrop in which to unravel the climax. While the cricket match can be construed at one level as the struggle between the underdog and the master, at another level it is an allegory for the real-life struggle by subjects of empire against their colonial rulers. At an even greater level of abstraction, the cricket match is an allegory to the universal tussle between forces of good and evil, with the village team evidently being on the side of the good. There are discernible nationalistic undertones in the movie, as Jyothika Virdi points out in her scholarly work The Cinematic Imagination: Indian Popular Films as Social History:
“Lagaan celebrates the struggle against the empire: the trans-national forces of another moment, that noble moment to which the nation owes its origin and to which Hindi cinema has only made muted references before. The anti-colonial struggle might become the latest imprint to imagine the nation—more than a hundred years after the nationalist movement began in earnest and fifty years after the nation’s independence. The dramatic appeal of the now-historic anti-imperial victory might make it yet another enduring strategy to glorify the nation racked with internal polarizations, confused about contending with intensifying globalization forces, and willing to repress and displace the trauma of two nations with the self-aggrandizement of becoming a regional superpower.” (Virdi, 2003, p.78)
The aforementioned observations by Jyothika Virdi are valid assessments of Lagaan. Moreover, it places the key ingredients of the film in the context of Bollywood role as an arbiter of Indian culture, values and notions of national identity. While some Bollywood movies take into consideration such elements as the nation’s tenuousness, its artifice, etc, and try to gloss over fault lines, a majority of the films “locate these fractures within the nation by projecting a national edifice and the rumblings against it. The nation not only subsumes personal identities but also collectives identified by class, gender, sexuality, community, and caste, although social movements centred around these threaten the hierarchies (feudal, capitalist, and patriarchal) maintained by the nation state. Hindi films explore the tensions these collectives generate, even openly articulate their conflicts within the nation; they offer a glimmer of change—and then contain it” (Ganti, 2004, p.232). It is quite fitting to conclude this essay by stating that Lagaan performs all these functions and more.
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