Wednesday, March 17, 2004

glisten globally: week one
Of the 170+ films I saw in 2003, the top nine all-around winners were (in no particular order) George Washington, Metropolis, Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, Aguirre, Wrath of God, Storytelling, The Happiness of the Katakuris, The Fast Runner, Samurai Fiction and Lagaan.

Lagaan might've been the best of the bunch and was certainly the most unlikely.

Here's a brief synopsis:

Bhuvan hails from a village called Champaner, somewhere in the interiors of India. Set in 1893 during the British rule, the village is facing a drought. It hasn't rained in three years. Their king who shares a working relationship with the Britishers, who is led by Capt Russell in their cantonment. One day, playing a political game with the traditionally Hindu, vegetarian king, Russell demands he eat meat or have his kingdom cough up twice the lagaan or tax. The king refuses and the prospect of paying twice the tax seems daunting to the poor villagers. The villagers of Champaner approach their king, who in turn explains to them that the lagaan cannot be waived this year. But Russell in an inexplicable move concedes, demanding that the villagers beat him and his team at cricket, to settle an old score with Bhuvan. Bhuvan accepts and is left with looking for team-mates to play against the Brits and beat them at their own game, so to speak.

Not too appealing looking, eh? Nothing says "I'll pass, thanks" like a long, subtitled film about land tax and cricket - and it's a MUSICAL, even.

And yet...

Lagaan is utterly compelling; equal parts costume epic, overwrought bodice ripping melodrama, Seven Samurai style "disparate elements come together to save the town" adventure and raucous Bollywood spectacle.
At close to four hours, I watched Lagaan FIVE times last year and wouldn't hesitate to give it another go.

It's a wonderfully broad film that you could see with your grandmother, your girlfriend, your snooty movie buddy or your popcorn flick friends.

Part of what keeps the movie so buoyant is the amazing music by composer A.R. Rahman.

Today I'm offering up a sampler of three of my favorite songs from Lagaan. I'll try to explain their context in the film and give you some links so that you can learn more about the story.


A.R. Rahman and Srinivas (and chorus) - "Chale Chalo"

"Chale Chalo" is a 'getting ready for war' track that accompanies the training of the villagers as they prepare for the fateful cricket match. There's a race over mountains, lifting of heavy weights, a female chorus where they tend to the boys wounds... yoga? Well, it IS an Indian film after all.

Here's a translated snippet:

"Say it again and again, speak, friend, yes!
May victory be ours, may defeat be theirs, yes!
May no one triumph over us!
Come, let's go, get a move on!
May those who oppose us be obliterated! Come on, let's go!"

Works for me. "Chale Chalo" apparently translates to "come on, let's go", which sounds just right.

This is great running music: excellent build and crescendo; overwhelmingly blood boiling with just the right dose of queso.

Complete Lyrics with English Translation; scroll down to the third entry.
The phrase "Bollywood" refers to the MASSIVE Indian movie industry based in Bombay. Bollywood produces more films and sells more tickets than Hollywood does and has for years.

If you'd like to learn more, the best place for an English speaking neophyte to get started would be Bollywhat?, a fairly comprehensive primer on the business. From there, you'll want to look in on Planet Bollywood. "PB" offers realaudio feeds of the top ten Bollywood songs of the week.

Note that this week's number one is another LOVELY Rahman song, "Yeh Rishta" available over here, presuming they haven't gone and exceeded their bandwidth or quit paying for hosting.
Generally speaking, most Bollywood musicals have two sets of stars: the onscreen actors and their overdubbed singing voices. For many Bollywood films, the soundtrack is equally important as the film itself.

Here's a press clipping on the Lagaan soundtrack release party.
A.R. Rahman interview
On the Lagaan set with Rahman
The overwhelmingly positive Rotten Tomatoes Score for Lagaan: 94%.


Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik (among many others)- "Ghanan Ghanan"

This is the first song in the film. As noted before, Champaner is in the throes of a drought and "Ghanan Ghanan" begins when a lookout sights thunderclouds on the horizon. The whole village comes out to dance in celebration.

It's a joyous, onomatopoeic song that really does evoke rainfall and release.

The sudden hush at the end signals that the clouds have passed over and there will be no rain.

Complete Lyrics with English Translation
Udit Narayan Fanpage
Alka Yagnik Fanpage
Lagaan Oscar page
Lagaan was nominated for Best Foreign Film in 2002, losing to No Man's Land.
Purchase the Lagaan DVD from Amazon
One of the few movies I'd actually recommend owning.


Asha Bhosle and Udit Narayan (and others) - "Radha Kaise Na Jale"

Man, this song is incredible.

It would take a great deal of writing for me to explain all the subtext taking place here, but suffice it to say "Radha Kaise Na Jale" represents a theme for the deeper issues at play in Lagaan: jealousy, impossible love and funky dancin'!

The footwork that accompanies this is reason enough to see the film.

Just about perfect.

Lyrics with English Translation
Asha Bhosle Fanpage
Aamir Khan fanpage
Khan is the star and producer of Lagaan.
Interview with Aamir Khan
This French fanpage (that I discovered after I had already done a considerable amount of research for this post) offers icons, wallpaper and a surprise or two for those who care to dig a little deeper.
Purchase the Lagaan soundtrack from Amazon
Most everything else on here is classic.
Also available in a two-disc edition that includes several Rahman hits from other movies.


Tomorrow, we're off to Bulgaria. Pack a sweater.

Just a few today.

Thought you might enjoy this little toy.
Runswithscissors is a blogger from Spain with English response to the Madrid tragedy and commentary on the changing political climate.
Dadadodo: Cutting Up the Web
Another B-Boy link, courtesy MONKEYFILTER: Electric Boogaloo: 1890