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November to Remember: How Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan is a feminist film

Aamir Khan and Gracy Singh starring in Lagaan is based on the game of cricket set during British rule. But the film had a very modern approach in its script and the entire filmmaking.

Aishwarya Vasudevan
Nov 09, 2021
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In the 20 years of its release, I must have watched Lagaan 20 times! Yes, it's one of my favourite films, and I react the same way with the same emotions while watching the Test Match between the men of Champaner and the Britishers. Dialogues like "Bas choo ke daud kachra" or "Dugna lagaan dena padega" have become part of memes and are etched in the minds of people. I discovered something about the film during my recent watch of Ashutosh Gowariker's directorial Lagaan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release.

I realised that Lagaan is an out-and-out feminist film and has not been credited for that. Or rather, let's say that the main character, Bhuvan Latha (Aamir Khan), is a feminist. The most simple and foremost sequence that sets the important premise of the film is Rachel Shelley as Elizabeth Russell helping the villagers of Champaner learn the game of cricket. When she offers help, their first instance is not that she is a woman; they have inhibitions about learning from a Britisher as she belongs to the rival camp.

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Throughout her training, not once was she questioned by any of them about her gender. But as an individual, she is praised for her selfless attitude towards the villagers. Elizabeth knows her brother, Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne), is wrong, so she leaves no stone unturned in making the Champaner villagers all ready for a tough cricket match.

However, she stays single forever, as mentioned in the epilogue voiced by Amitabh Bachchan. Her unrequited love for Bhuvan became a topic of discussion, but an individual has a choice and stubbornness to lead their life.

Talking about Bhuvan, he was raised by a single mother and a widow. But unlike in the pre-Independence era, she was not shown sitting inside the house or stepping out. Suhasini Mulay as Yashoda Maa supports her son and motivates him with her determination. She is his human shield when the whole world stands against him.

So does Gracy Singh as Gauri. She supports Bhuvan unconditionally, yes she loves him but she is not a timid woman. She doesn't fear giving her opinion right in front of everyone and is not shown as a 'silly village girl' who has no sense of the world.

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All three female characters, Elizabeth, Gauri, and Yashoda, helped Bhuvan in shaping his personality as a non-violent rebel who knows all that's happening around him is just not right. However, he takes the matter into his hands, not only to convince the villagers to fight the war in the name of cricket but also to win and learn some sportsmanship.

Earlier, during the 20-year celebration of Lagaan, Gowariker was asked about Bhuvan being a feminist. The filmmaker said that he wanted women to play a role in Lagaan in some way, as cricket is such a male-dominated sport. Gowariker explained that it couldn't merely have been a male-dominated film and that the only people who could aid Bhuvan were his mother, Gauri, and then Elizabeth.

The director said that Elizabeth attempted to help Bhuvan with her game knowledge, and it was more of an inner strength that Gauri was displaying, in her opinion. Bhuvan's mother tells him that he reminds her of his father, that he was a rebel, and that he died as a result of it. At the same time, Gowariker added that Bhuvan's mother encourages him to follow his heart and do anything he desires.

Bhuvan led the Champaner team to win the match, but it was a collective effort of every villager in the film.

Did you think Lagaan had a feminist approach? Let us know.


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