Lagaan: Elizabeth, More Than Just A Gori Extra

Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), She’s more than just a gori extra.

With the encouragement of theBollywoodFan, I decided to contribute to his Lagaan Week to celebrate the 9th anniversary of the release of the epic film.  In order to develop something that would resemble a worthwhile blog post, I knew I had to re-watch Lagaan, since it had been a couple of years since I’d last seen it.  It was my third time seeing Lagaan, and I enjoyed it even more than I did the first 2 viewings, which I believe speaks to the quality of the film.  In case you don’t already know, Lagaan is about Indian villagers challenged by some British imperialists to a game of cricket, and if the villagers win they would not have to pay the Brits the unfair land taxes, known as Lagaan.   Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne) is a one-dimensional scoundrel, and this cruel man offers a wager he believe the Indians will never win.  His naive, yet kind-hearted sister, Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley),  arrives to India and begins to take in the scenes with a curious and open mind.  I love seeing  white people pop up in Indian films, since I can pretend they are me!  I can also think  hey, I can one day break into the Indian Film Industry, see, there’s a white person too! So with this delusional thinking, naturally I was fascinated to see Elizabeth.

Despite not knowing Hindi, she quickly sizes things up and all too soon she witnesses her brother’s  maniacal ways.

I do enjoy seeing the word “Whitey” it the subtitles, so I show it to you a lot in this post, here’s a start:

Lagaan (2001) is the movie that taught me about cricket, a little game I’d previously called gilli danda back in my village in India.

Wait, sorry, no village, no India, I keep loosing track that I’m from America and am not Indian, please pardon me.  When I was in contact with theBollywoodFan about Lagaan week, I said I’d like to take the angle of writing about Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), the gori extra since I’m always making note of my white sisters surfacing in Bollywood films;  theBollywoodFan, wise beyond his years, calmly replied, “She’s more than a gori extra,” and I realized he was right!  She is more than your typical gori extra, she not only plays a bigger role, but she also serves to bridge the cultural gap between the different groups, and helps us think, Hey, wait just one minute, not all these Britishers are so bad after all.  When the villagers are watching the game of cricket, Bhuvan ends up catching a ball out in the field which leads to a confrontation with some of the British players, that ultimately develops into the bet being made over the cricket game and the land tax.

Elizabeth realized this bet is unfair since the villagers are sure to lose a game they don’t know when pitted against people who have a full understanding and longtime experience with the game, not to mention endless leisure hours to play since the Indians are toiling away to make them rich.  She sets out to try to right her brother’s wrong by helping the villagers understand the finer points of the game.

So the teaching and leaning begins…

Recruitment: Initially Elizabeth teaches a small group the game, but there’s still the obstacle of establishing a full team who will be up for the extreme challenge.  Finally a diverse group of people are gathered from the village and surrounding areas since they have a common interest in eliminating the unfair tax by their common enemy, the British.

I learned all I need to know about cricket here:

Jealousy: Gauri (Gracy Singh) is a young village woman who has her eye on Bhuvan so it follows that she starts to get concerned about all the time he spends with the white memsahib.

Cultural exchange: Elizabeth helps to teach some of the finer points of cricket to the villagers, and in turn Bhuvan teaches her something about the Hindu legend of Radha & Krishna.


Elizabeth is enamoured by the festival and is even further taken in by Dandiya Raas number  Kaise Na Jale with music by A.R.  Rahman, playback singers Asha Bhonsle,  Udit Narayan, Vaishali.

Confession: As it turns out, Gauri wasn’t far off on her women’s intuition because Elizabeth, who has managed to learn Hindi in a few days, confesses her pyaar love for Bhuvan.  Luckily she’s able to save face since the part where she really lays it on the line is in English, so Bhuvan doesn’t understand, yet I think he may suspect it.

Fantasy: The tune O Rey Chori,  (playback singers Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, Vasundhara Das) includes Elizabeth’s fantasy of what it would be like if Bhuvan was in her British world, or if she was in his Hindustani duniya.


Elizabeth is caught: A double crossing villager with an ulterior motive  informs Captain Russell that his sister is helping the villagers to learn cricket.  With shame, I admit I did find Captain Russell quite handsome, despite his evil deeds. Do you?

If I can answer for Elizabeth here, I’d tell her brother that it would be the delicious food and the Indian Film Industry that would allow her to turn against her brother, but I suspect she may say something about the cool Dandiya Raas dances and doing the right thing in the face of injustice.
The BIG Game: The stakes are high, and Aamir Khan’s Bhuvan conveys this beautifully here.  I believe Khan is very talented and expressing emotion through his eye, and this is a perfect example. Dekh!  I bet you’re even crying looking at the photos.  I am.



Elizabeth watches the game, worried about the outcome, rooting all the while for the villagers.  I suppose in Indian English one would say she was chewing her brains and taking much tension isn’t it?  In case you haven’t seen Lagaan and don’t know the outcome of the game *SPOILER ALTER*

There are winners and losers. Elizabeth sees the joyful embrace between Bhuvan and Gauri at the end of the match, and instantly understands that her fantasy will never be a reality.

Bittersweet ending: She can’t have Bhuvan, but she can play Radha to his Krishna.

Finally, you may be wondering how all those gori cheerleaders made their way to India, and I’m here to tell you that  Bhuvan and Lagaan are the reason.  When Elizabeth returned to England, she started the  first cricket cheerleading squad, and there after tradition has held that all IPL cheerleaders are to be white only.

And speaking of Lagaan and the IPL, Did you see A. R. Rahman perform at the 2010 closing ceremonies?   

After exploring the part of Elizabeth in Laagan, I am tempted to do a series on the pantheon of gori extra patron saints of Bollywood.

My personal favorite is the character Christina ( Barbara Lindley) from  Purab Aur Paschim (1970).

Opps! sorry, she’s been objectified as only a gori cold be, let me get a better picture of her….Ah, here, that’s better!

And then there’s Katherine (Antonia Bernath) in  Kisna: The Warrior Poet (2005)-yeah, I admit I saw it! So WHAT!?!

Sue McKinley (Alice Patten) of Rang De Basanti (2006); and most recently Sarah (Sarah Thompson) of Raagneeti (2010).

And like all good Bollywood films, allow me to leave you with some inspiration, courtesy of Bhuvan…and the moral of the story is:

This post was so long, time to roll the credits…

For more on Third Annual Lagaan Week: Ninth Anniversary Special, click over to theBollywoodFan-ji’s blog.

Aamir Khan the Pucca Idiot, a “3 Idiots” promotion

Have you been enjoying the 3 Idiots promotion that Aamir Khan has been doing? I have.

Play the Aamir Khan Game at:http://www.idiotsacademy.za…
Solve the clue and you could spend New Year’s Eve with Aamir Khan

The series of clips in the game to promote the movie have Aamir Khan in various disguises and locations in India. They have been quite sweet.  In one of the videos he pops up in a school in Palanpur.  It’s fun to see the students’ reaction to him; they serenade him and he returns the favor by singing the title song from  Taare Zameen Par to them.  So sweet! Dekh:

The kids go on to play cricket with Aamir, and feed him their lunches from home.

When Aamir is undercover, not everyone recognises him, and some don’t know who he is even out of disguise. This is one of my favorites so far with Aamir-ji in Tamil Nadu.  His tour guide, Lakshman, really has no idea about who Aamir is, even after he reveals himself.  Enjoy:

Lakshman, don’t make me come all the way to Tamil Nadu, all the way to that monument made from sirf ek pathhar and find you! Lakshman, I will have to give you a tight slap to the face for not knowing Aamir.  But since you do seem to know at least the story of Ghajini , I will not slap you.  I must say if I ever make it to Chennai, I will try and get Lakshman as a guide.

You can view all the game videos HERE. 3 Idiots premiers tomorrow.  If you’d like to find some great translations of the film’s songs, head over to TheBollywoodFan.

Aamir Khan & Hillary Clinton talk education.

Look at HillaryClinton being charmed by Aamir Khan! I wonder if she’s seen any of his films.India Clinton

I find this photo romantic, don’t you?

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Thanks to Bollywood Cookie for the photos and you can see more HERE.

Saturday, Jul 18, 2009, India

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Mumbai on a five-day India visit.  And at a programme, she met Bollywood star Aamir Khan and spoke to students at the Xavier’s College. (source)

As a teacher, I decided not to be insulted by some of Aamir’s comments regarding the profession that he makes here. I’ll let them slide. It’s quite an interesting video and both Hillary and Aamir have some insightful comments about education in the US and India.

“AIDS Sutra:Untold Stories from India” with a touch of Bollywood

http://sajablogs.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451dd1469e20105361b738b970b-800wiFor time-pass I watch a lot of movies and I also read books.  I suppose it’s normal to find stories about films in books about India, since the film industry infiltrates the culture. Even in this anthology on the serious subject of AIDS,  I was able to find a bit of very uplifting Bollywood material.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India, a landmark collection of essays that presents a complex and gripping picture of the disease. Sixteen of India’s most well-known literary writers go on the road to tell the story of people affected by the epidemic and the stigma that surrounds them. “This book reveals the human side of the disease,” write Bill and Melinda Gates in their introduction to this groundbreaking anthology. (source)

Bhoot Ki Kahaanian by Jaspreet Singh references Taare Zameen Par (2007).

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Return to Sonagachi by Sunil Gangopadhyay presented a delightful dilemma: where on earth do we hide the whisky?  I bet it was Johnnie Walker.  Read on to see how the dilemma reminded me a bit of Umrao Jaan (1981) and (2006):

 

 

 

 

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Now here’s the Umrao Jaan-ish part:

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(p.158)  

See!  A poetry writing prostitute with a heart of gold, just like Umrao Jaan.

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Love in the Time of Positives by Nalini Jones baghban00 describes how Baghban (2003), and in particular the part played by  Salman Khan, ended up saving someone’s life.

On the day he planned to die, he decided to spend his last afternoon at the movies. Basavaraj described the film he saw at great length-a family drama starring Amitabh Bachchan called Baghban. It is the story of loving parents who give everything they have to their son and look froward to a happy old age.  But their children have grown selfish, caught up in their own concerns, and the parents are left destitute until an unlikely saviour, a street boy the couple had adopted and educated, comes to their rescue.  Sitting alone in the theater, Basavaraj began to worry about this own parents. He realised he was their only son, their best hope for ‘a good old age’. He wanted to be like the adopted boy in the film, the only one who doesn’t forget what he owes his family.  Basavaraj went home, threw out the pills, pored away the alcohol, and cast himself as the unlikely saviour- the son who is secretly HIV positive. (source p.320)

baghban

 

So if you’ve seen Baghban, I suppose the credit would go to Salman Khan  for saving the life of Basavaraj! Who would have thought!?  I wonder if Salman-ji knows about this.

 

The Daughters of Yellamma by William Dalrymple includes an Amitabh Bachchan siting!  In some parts of India young girls are “married” or dedicated to the temple goddess as prostitutes.  Dalrymple interviews one of the women and she recalls the time she lived in Bombay:

I ate fabulous biryani at the Sagar Hotel and once when I was in the streets I saw Amitabh Bachchan pass by in his car. (p. 226)

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As much as I enjoyed to Sunil Gangopadhyay’s piece, I enjoyed The Last of the Ustaads by Aman Sethi which both mentions and pays a great tribute to Gadar, Ek Prem Katha (2001).  Maybe I loved Sethi’s piece so much because Gadar is one of my favorite movies.

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Questioning the plight of truck drivers in India and their higher tendency to have HIV than the general population, Sethi interviews a truck driver:

Is it just ‘modern life’? When finding answers to sudhcomplex questions in a country infested with faux holy men, one must turn to the sole oracle of truth—Bollywood super hit film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha(Gadar: A Love Story), Tara Singh the truck driver, played by trucker demigod Sunny Deol, is asked a poignant question by Partition refugee Sakina, played by Amisha Patel.  ‘Tara Singhji,’ she asks as sh expertly ties hi turban, ‘why don’t you get married?’ Tho this, Tara Singh shakes his turbaned head, and gives her an answer that made practically every truck driver in India nod his head approvingly and say ‘Wah!’ ‘Madamji,’ says Tara Singh, ‘I live in Khana Buddur; today my truck is parked here, but tomorrow I might  be in Delhi. After that why would anyone want to marry a truck driver?’ Thought the movie is set in 1947, Tara Singh’s question touches upon an issue that is relevant even today.  Truck drivers aren’t particularly discriminated against when it comes to marriage partners; but some of the younger drivers I spoke with said that finding partners was becoming harder and harder.  I watched Gadar on the recommendation of Sanjay and some of his friends Played out against the backdrop of the Partition riots in 1947 in the border states of India and Pakistan, Gadar tells the tale of how a heroic Jat-Sikh truck driver rescues a wealthy Muslim girl from a rampaging mob; wins her trust, marries her, rescues her once more–this time from her rampaging father–and finally settles down, in a happy ending. While several films have had their heroes careen up and down highways in trucks, the heroes. are rarely truck drivers;l the truck just happens to be the closest vehicle at had to make good their escape, rescue their lovers, or run over their enemies.  Gadar is perhaps the only mainstream hit in which the protagonist is a truck driver who proves to be a good husband, father, patriot, and all round nice guy.  Unfortunately, Gadar  too starts with Tara Singh accepting that fate has dealt him a poor hand by making him a truck driver.  He obligingly sings and dances and plays the part of the happy truck driver, but he understands the distance between him and the object of his desire.  As he says, ‘Even if I wanted to, I can’t touch the moon, can I?’ The rest of the plot is a story of redemption–of proving that truck drivers are honourable, powerful , and patriotic.  Why does truck driving lack izzat?  Why are truck drivers victims of negative stereotypes?  Is it class? Is it their association with a high-risk behavior group? Does, in fact, being categorised as  a high-risk group stigmatise them even further? From Gadar to their portrayal in the Indian press, truckers are regarded as rough and ready and reckless, dirty and dissolute.  Prone to drink, driving accidents–and now disease. (p. 306-7)

For more about the book,  read a review  from The Telegraph, Calcutta India, and another from The Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. Listen to the NPR Podcast on the book: ‘AIDS Sutra’ Challenges Widespread Denial In India’

Also, if you want to get filmy with it, here’s something else.

The AIDS Jaago (AIDS Awake) project is four short dramatic films which aim to dismantle myths and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. These films were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and made by acclaimed Indian filmmakers Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding; The Namesake), Vishal Bhardwaj, Santosh Sivan and Farhan Akhtar. Designed to use the immense power of moviemaking to wake people up about AIDS, the project was the brainchild of Mira Nair and was produced by her company Mirabai Films. (source)

Watch for Free on Jaman HERE

other Bollywood Movies on HIV

Bollywood Insider: Catching up for 2009!

Here’s a better late than never update on Bollywood Insider, with my favorite correspondant of Bollywood chugli and news, Suzi Mann.  Many of the links I’ve added here before from ITN/Bollywood Insider  through youtube eventually disappear.  Hopefully these newer links from AOL,  Bebo,  Joost, and MySpace will last. 
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Enjoy the updates yaar:
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My filmi fotos of India. Part III.

As described in my filmi fotos of India part I and part II, I found bits of Bollywood all around, and unfortunately I most often saw them from a moving vehicle and my camera was turned on too late for a good picture. This photo taken near Agra is distorted by the car window, but I like the color and the fact that two of my favorites, Amrish Puri and Ajay Devgan are in the movie poster. I don’t know what film this poster is from since I can’t read Devanagari script. If you zoom into the photo you can make out more stars.

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The most popular films during my visit to India were Aamir Khan’s Ghajini and Shahrukh Khan’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi as these theaters all show.

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Ghajini. Delhi.India.08.09

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In addition to the Ghajini film posters, there were also these other Ghajini ads all over. At first I didn’t understand this Ghajini cartoon, but then realized it was a cute advertisement for Amul butter. If you look closely you can see the Ghajini cartoon arms read I slice bread and I make sandwich. Read about the advertisement and see a much better picture of it HERE.

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I liked the cute ad, but I also like butter and Aamir Khan. Here’s another picture from the train where you can see some Amul butter:

Food on the Shatabdi Express train. Amritsar to Delhi.1.09

Food on the Shatabdi Express train. Amritsar to Delhi.1.09

I can’t talk about Aamir Khan without giving equal time to Shahrukh Khan. This photo of SRK was taken in Ludhiana. The car broke down across from the sign. No problem though, since it left me some time to worship the sign of SRK. Enjoy!

SRKinLudhiana

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Update: Thanks to theBollywoodFan for identifying the movie poster from the first image as Sangram (1993).  He also let me know that Amul did a similar ad campaign when Rang De Basanti was released in 2006.  Here’s their cute Young De Basanti image.

THAT Bollywood Pool!

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr! It’s cold outside where I live and being in some warm weather near a swimming pool sure would be nice.  All I want for Christmas is THAT pool!  No chance of that, so I’ll be happy to write about it instead. I think you’ve seen this pool if you’ve watched your share of Bollywood films. It took me a while to get hipped to this pool.  I like pools anyway, and the sight of them always makes me smile, so I was extra surprised to realize that this pool started showing up in a lot of Bollywood films.

hkknthatpool

When I’d see it I think “THAT pool again!” I would nominate it for best supporting background architecture if the Filmfare Awards had such a category.  I will heretofore refer to the pool as THAT pool, not to be confused with The Pool.  THAT pool is easily identified by the fancy arched diving platform with dual step approach. I know I’ve see THAT pool in Dil (1990) where Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit’s characters danced around it and announced their engagement. I am almost sure I saw it in  Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994) where Salmaan Khan dove off the cool platform into the pool and splashed around in it with a flirty girl.

So the other day while watching Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin (1977) I saw it again! I thought “THAT pool!” and got around to finally screen capping it.  Here we see Kajaal Kiran grooving around the pool.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a closer image of Kiran so that you could see that she’s wearing funky platform shoes, and that those pants are leather. I merely captured her groovy spirit. This is how I’d look if I found myself at THAT pool.  I’d be dancing around it whipping around my scarf too.

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If you have some images of the pool, I’m sorry, THAT Bollywood pool,  send them this way.  If you have seen it in a Bollywood film tell me which one.  It would be nice to establish a filmography of THAT pool.

UPDATED  7.26.11

Thanks to Beth Loves Bollywood we now have full information on The Pool!