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Friday, June 29, 2001

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Scoring sixers with every scene

WHEN AAMIR dropped in to Chennai some three months ago, he sat endlessly with Rahman, as the two put their heads together, seeking perfection. It was the post-production stage. All he hoped to do was to make a `good movie'.

He had said what mattered to him more than any award was the appreciation he gets from his fans, from the others who matter to him and his own assessment of his performance. Oscars for him, were his fans.

Going by the audience response for `Lagaan', Aamir has truckloads of `Oscars', lined up from all over the country. In Chennai, the tickets (advance booking) get sold in 20 minutes after the counter opens.

Suddenly, we have a Hindi film generating euphoria in theatres. Yes, more than the one we have seen for the biggest of `Superstar' films. Why is Chennai caught in a frenzy?

Well, imagine a room with 10 people watching a thriller of a cricket match. A real live-wire of a match. Imagine the excitement. Get the picture? Now multiply that some 60-70 times! That's the Lagaan experience for you. For there are some 600-700 people in the cinema hall watching a match where the underdog Indian farmers take on the Brits to escape paying `lagaan' (tax).

Don't let that one-line of a story put you off. It did put Aamir off when he heard the same line for the first time from the director Ashutosh Gowariker. It was only a four hour narration that had Aamir excited. Same with the movie.

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. It is a celebration of the age-old movie-watching tradition, a tribute to the Indian film industry which was almost losing touch with the ``desh ki dharthi'' themes.

The end of the nineties saw the exit of the village from Hindi cinema when the canvas shifted to the city and phoren locations. When dhotis became extinct and Tommy Hilfiger and Gap became the uniform for Bollywood.

Of course, we did catch a glimpse of the filmy village in the rare likes of `Jis Desh Main Ganga Rehta Hai'. But somehow, village always remained only as the starting point for the protagonist who ultimately ended up in the big bad city, sometimes never to return to the village.

``Lagaan marks the advent of the Dalit in commercial cinema,'' Rajiv Menon said, after he spoke at length on his Sense and Sensibility inspired saga at the talk organised by FIPRSECI (Federation Internationale de la Press Cinematographique) at the British Council, recently.

Rajiv was apparently delighted at the movie's literally `down to earth' theme. He found it to be the best thing to happen to Indian cinema after `Sholay'.

And he is not exactly wrong, going by the reviews the film has been getting all over the country. Some have included in the league of classics such as `Mother India' and `Do Bigha Zameen'.

Apparently, Aamir recently announced an additional 18 minute footage to the film which would make Lagaan a four hour movie. `More lagaan for the same money'.

Critics nationwide believe that it is the combination of cricket patriotism and romance that has clicked.

Dev Anand had done it too, but `Awwal Number' bombed. Sports flicks have never become classics. `Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar' was a rage, but somehow didn't end up as a classic.

Lagaan however, has all the makings of a classic. You can even ignore the critics who have all given it `four stars out of five' rankings or drawn parallels to `Escape to Victory' or all the cover stories churned out or the ad-spoofs.

Critical reviews are not always an indication of what the people feel. To find THAT out, step into the cinema halls.

It would be a smart idea to take along war paint, whistles, flags and tons of popcorn. Watch Champaner take on the Brits. And cheer! It's great news for Hindi cinema.

By Sudhish Kamath

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