Goodness! Having read what’s wrong with Lagaan, in the March issue of Himal, I was certainly left feeling extremely small for having thoroughly enjoyed a Hindi film after so many years. That is till, I sat back and analysed what exactly it was that had left such a pleasant feeling in my heart.
I am in no way familiar with Bollywood-speak, but I feel fairly certain that the producer and director of Lagaan did not have any aspirations of doing an Ambedkar or Gandhi on the audience and merely meant to provide commercially viable ‘entertainment’. And, on my part I would not be completely honest if I did not add, entertainment at its refreshing best. For an industry remarkable for the brashness with which it reduces stalwarts of history like Asoka into obnoxious sex symbols and mutates the magical vyahritis of the Gayatri Mantra into meaningless chants of ‘the bold and the beautiful’, Lagaan is a seminal piece of work.
Anand, no doubt, has painstakingly researched his rhetoric against Lagaan, but such nitpicking seems more appropriate for the esoteric and academic running down of some ‘Theory of Social Reforms’ rather than a critical appreciation of art; and that too of one of the most simplistic of genres. Secondly, I too have at times felt dismayed at the ‘games’ played on the ‘backstages’ of the world of cricket, but it would be unfair to accuse Khan and Gowriker of trying not just to promote such practices but also of attempting any overt PR of the game. Furthermore, though Anand wants to extend the current trend of debate on historicity to cover its accuracy or inaccuracy in Lagaan, and even though most of Anand’s indictments of political incorrectness will hold in the ‘court of law’, I feel Lagaan like any other work of ‘art’ deserves the creative license that has been the hallmark of Indian artistic criticism for centuries.
For what after all is the substance of ‘art’? Indian thought maintains, it is –
Apurvam yad vastu prathayati vina karanakalam
Jagadgrava prakhyam nijarasa bharat sarayati ca
Art is –
That object which not having any antecedent (apu roam), though inspired by the manifested world, is created by the infusion of individualist and intrinsic emotions (nijarasa bharat).
On this account alone Lagaan can be allowed to play around with its facts and figures for it is the ‘figment of imagination’ of its creator. However, the sloka goes on to state that the act of creation is accomplished both by the creator and the spectator or sah-hridaya. Maybe there is a need for more sah-hridayata here.
Lagaan certainly found an empathetic sah-hridaya in me. It resolved a quandary I have been mulling over for the past few years. The South Asian urbanites have so distanced themselves from their roots that they can no longer identify with their own art forms. For the past fifty years this void has found solace in the ‘makebelieve’ world of celluloid. However, the silver screen has been a capricious ‘mistress’ and has mangled the perceptions of its worshippers for years on end. Today, Travolta look-alikes driving Buicks, living in English manors and singing ‘Vande Maataram’ are the icons of ‘nationalistic fervor’. Manicured and pedicured women in designer folk-outfits go through their arati and karvachauth rituals supposedly reviving the power of religious rituals. We are duped into forgetting that they cleverly camouflage the fact that they are merely the voice of the ‘market’ with the implicit purpose of the creation of capitalist tastes and the making of uncritical minds.
The use of art as a ‘purposive tool’ cannot be denied. ‘Ram Rajya’ is a myth that found universal acceptance and popularity through the untiring industry of the ancient kathakars and travelling bards of old. Whatever ethics still remains ingrained in our depraved hearts comes from these modes of centuries of social mimesis. However, the postmodern world has trampled over these age-old forms of entertainment leaving a people bereft of their myths and legends. Lagaan is just such a myth.
I salute Lagaan for successfully incorporating the art of the old ‘kathakar’ to give new dreams to our sorry world. Lagaan is not about cricket. Lagaan is about hope; about courage in the face of adversity; about the ability to be fair to one and all, including one’s opponent; it is about a woman defying the cruel rules of a man’s world; it is about equality; but best of all it says all this in a language familiar to it own people. I hope with all my heart that Lagaan is awarded the Oscar.