Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

Why Russell was a smarter captain than Bhuwan?

A Potpourri of Vestiges Guest Post

By Soumabha

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001), starring Aamir Khan, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker

While most people love Aamir Khan’s role of Bhuwan in the movie Lagaan, I for one am not impressed. Yes, he is charismatic, he built a team from a group of misfits, led his village to victory by scoring a fabulous century and then eventually like most Hindi movies went on to get the girl too, but all that is predictable.  If you discuss the teams from the captaincy point of view it is Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne) who emerges victorious.  His sharp intellect and cricketing acumen along with his fine batting skills were what led the match going till the last over. Here are 5 instances which will quantify my claim – 

·         The Use of Yardley’s Bouncers 

Set in the Victorian period of British Raj, there were no rules against the use of bouncers and a fast bowler is always a good addition if exploited properly. Captain Russell’s use of Yardley to dismiss Lakha and later injure Bhuwan might have not been the turning points of the match but were extremely crucial in lowering the opposition’s morale.

The Use of Yardley’s Bouncers in Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001), Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker

·         Spotting Goli’s Bowling

Spotting that before Goli actually released the ball, he actually made a grunting noise like “Hmmph” was truly ingenious. It reminds me of the time when Javed Miandad kept shouting andar-bahar to help the tail-ender spot the ball and guide Pakistan to a victory.  

Spotting Goli’s Bowling in Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001), Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker

·         Kicking The Ball To the Boundary To Keep Bhuwan Off-Strike

I’m sure that that would cost his team the DLF IPL Fair Play award, but who cares–at the spur of the moment that was the right thing to do. He needed to win the match and putting the weaker batsman on strike was the only way he could achieve it.

Kicking The Ball To the Boundary To Keep Bhuwan Off-Strike by Russell in Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001), Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker

·         Running Out Tipu 

Again, not the most ethical thing to do but when the batsman runs forward before the delivery he is in fact taking unfair advantage and is just calling for it. Before we Indians get all judgy and proclaim him the arrogant prick that he is, let us check the history - Vinoo Mankad, the then Indian captain was the first ever bowler to do this. In fact in cricketing terminology, a player who is dismissed in this fashion is said to be Mankaded. 

 Running Out (Mankaded) Tipu  in Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001), Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker

·         Invention of Sledging

He just might have become the Father of Sledging. By provoking Arjan and taunting him about roti, kapda and makaan he may have led to the modernization of cricket and the version we see being played today contrary to the fact that English were supposed to have invented Cricket as a Gentleman’s game… pffft.

Invention of Sledging in Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001), Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker

While I was sad that his team lost the match, it goes onto show that without Lady Luck and the support of your team-mates, it is difficult to even rustle a fallen leaf.  Overall though a long movie, it is definitely worth the 3 hours 35 minutes required to watch it. The depiction of India under British Raj has as usual been an excellent backdrop to the story and Ashutosh Gowariker’s direction has left most of us spellbound. There might be only a handful of people in India who haven’t yet gotten the chance to watch Lagaan, so if you are one of them, don’t despair there are *cough* torrents *cough* available. Sorry, I meant DVD parlours.

About Author - 
Soumabha: Admin and Publicity Head of the blog Bytes and Banter

This guest post is written by Soumabha, a Computer Science graduate from BITS Pilani, Pilani Campus. He is currently employed in Samsung R&D. Hailing originally from Kolkata this proud Bengali is the Admin and Publicity Head of the blog Bytes and Banter. He is also a food enthusiast and can often be seen reviewing Restaurants on burrp! and Zomato. The views expressed by the author are personal.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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  1. i myself was the fan of the tactics that captain russel used. we got to see almost every kind of dismissal in the match. Ricky ponting seemed to be inspired by his magnificence.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts... I am quite amused to find myself amongst so many Captain Russell fans!!! :-)

  3. quite a take... though the typical hindi movie buff would side with "hero" in this case mr perfectionist your whole point of view is very much technical and if one would say showing some of the basic elements about cricket. From bouncers to sledging this one went well :)

  4. Hm... personally I like Bhuvans character a lot more than Russel's. As for the cricket-technical aspects, I don't know anything about Cricket so you may be right here.

  5. Well... I guess you, like me, are an Aamir Khan fan and so it's natural to be a bit biased to towards Bhuvan's enigmatic character vis-a-vis Russell's outright negative character.

  6. Well... I guess you, like myself, are a huge Aamir Khan fan... and it's natural for any Aamir Khan to be biased towards Bhuvan. Btw, thanks for sharing your valuable thoughts! :-)

  7. i can smile at the most .. for this is so beautiful ... and factual post ... :) and yet unethical ... :) sledging unethical... intentionally allowing boundary unethical.. bouncers .. unethical.. India means ethics and principals ;) Nice post !!

  8. Yes i agree with you , Captain Russell is much better captain than Bhuvan but that is expected isn't it? Russell is from the country where cricket is invented , he must have been playing cricket since childhood. However some of the tactics he applied can be termed as cheating in professional cricket. To beat a bunch of amateur villagers who never played cricket in their lives, he buys one of the villagers in the team, then his teammates use racist comments and kicking of ball to keep Bhuvan off strike ,which i don't think was allowed in professional cricket in those days too. So i agree cricket tactics of Russell are better apart from those cheater tactics of-course.

  9. I appreciate this take on Lagaan but I think we are a little over-analysing here. :)
    Off course, Russell was a better captain. He has to be! Bhuvan and his camp are learning the game on the fly. Otherwise he would know new ball doesn't spin and wouldn't open with Kachra. Russell played the game before, he knew it better. Nobody in their right minds would say villagers had a shred of chance winning it. But isn't what that was Lagaan all about?

  10. I can't say that I disagree with you... thanks for sharing your thoughts!!! :-)

  11. I couldn't have agreed more!!! :-)

  12. Very true... I would however love to hear the writer's thoughts on this one!!!

  13. Hah! Loved your precision and fact based irreverence! No wonder this film is still such a favourite of so many!

  14. Definitely Bhuvan had to was scripted;).Though when we see shrewdness of Captain Russel, we come to realize the difference between sportsmanship spirit of the duo.It becomes more evident when we see this in light of Modern Cricket. Lagaan puts the whole strategy and tactics thing in ethical and non ethical brackets.

  15. Soumabha Roy ChaudhuriMay 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Lagaan as I see it, is something most of us would admire and get inspired from but I doubt people believe in the reality of the film. Like you rightly said "Nobody in their right minds would say villagers had a shred of chance winning it. "

  16. Soumabha Roy ChaudhuriMay 28, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    Exactly my point, if Captain Russell is such a veteran, how in the right mind did he and his team lose to a bunch of villagers?? The whole thing was scripted.

    Secondly, while Capt Russell's methods were wrong, most of them have been adopted today in modern day cricket, legally or illegally.

    1. Mankading

    2. Sledging

    3. Buying other players ~ match fixing

    The ball kicking part now has a rule - If the boundary results from an overthrow or from the wilful act of a fielder the runs scored shall be

    (i) any runs for penalties awarded to either side AND

    (ii) the allowance for the boundary AND

    (iii) the runs completed by the batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act. Law 18.12(b) (Batsman returning to wicket he has left) shall apply as from the instant of the throw or act.

  17. Soumabha Roy ChaudhuriMay 28, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    Thanks Dada.. always a pleasure entertaining you :)

  18. Soumabha Roy ChaudhuriMay 28, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Yes, Bhuwan was shown to be a hero so naturally the public likes him more. But turning a hero into a villain is not hard at all - for this movie lets say we portray Bhuwan as -

    The local village ruffian who argues with the village headman to settle for the cricket match.
    Steals the heroine from a woodcutter in the village
    Flirts with both chicks
    And in the end loses the match

    Except the last point all the other ones can just be changed by using special effects. Much like how the music and make ups are used to differentiate the TV-serial saas' from the bahus

  19. Soumabha Roy ChaudhuriMay 28, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Thanks Richa :) . Siding with the hero has become too mainstream, so I go with the villain nowadays :P

  20. Soumabha Roy ChaudhuriMay 28, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    Yes, this is one of the best movies ever in that respect. It is the 17th time I watched this movie while writing the post. The blend of cricket and movies is what holds India together. The match is beautifully portrayed and gives crucial twists to keep us thoroughly entertained. :)


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