It is 1893, and the sneering and vicious Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne) of the British cantonment at Champaner has an outlandish idea – the upshot of a cricket match between British army officials and the villagers will decide whether or not a triple tax will be levied. The villagers have only three months to learn, practise and perfect the game they have known as gili danda.
Drumbeats bring on silhouettes in the rising dawn – the 11 sons of the soil. They look to the village temple in the distance, strike the vriksasana pose and pray for strength to redeem their drought-ridden village.
One of the most go-getter songs in recent times, Chale Chalo is debutante Srinjoy Bhattacharya’s musical contribution to Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan (2001). Lead singers AR Rahman (also the composer), Srinivas and Bhattachatya take on the verses, while an energetic chorus lends Javed Akhtar’s lyrics all the vigour and faith a community needs to come together.
The leader of the unlikelies is Bhuvan, played by Aamir Khan in the last days of his boyish smile and regular shape. Each of the 11 players functions with the director’s obvious message of inclusion and team spirit. Practice sessions are replete with hilarious moments and pitfalls, and the varying performances predict the toss-up of entertainment and thrills that the final cricket match holds in store.
Engagingly detailed is the manner in which the entire village gears up. The team hack trees, saw and shape cricket bats, and whittle at stumps. Mothers and wives create leg guards from domestic resources and children massage exhausted muscles. The village elders view their sons with pride, and all gather in a boisterous bhangra dance at the end of the sequence.
In case we forget that the camaraderie comes from a crisis, less than half a bucket of water is drawn from the well by Bhuvan’s mother, the still beautiful Suhasini Mulay.