A classic which is the predecessor to Lagaan

Thespian Dilip Kumar had passed away last year. Had he been alive, he would have completed 100 years of age on 11th December 2022, namely, yesterday. On the occasion of his birth centenary, this old review is being republished as my tribute to the great artist.

I had got inspiration to write this review without further delay from the views of esteemed blogger and reviewer Sait Nair on my blog  regarding plagiarism. He had written – ‘General public excuse “biggies” even when they indulge in plagiarism’. I endorse this view with my observation that “biggies” sometimes consider it their birth-right to plagiarize. Much acclaimed movie of Aamir Khan – Lagaan (2001) which missed winning the Academy Award in the foreign film category by just a whisker is a classic example of shameless plagiarizing by the “biggies”. I have come to know that the movies based on original stories are only considered for any award at the Oscars. However our masterminds managed to carry this plagiarized movie to the last stage of Oscars without giving the minimum thanks to the original moviemakers, i.e., the B.R. Films who had made the all time classic movie Naya Daur (1957). Lagaan is a scene to scene (if not frame to frame) copy of this movie. Only the backdrop and set-up have been changed. Not only the basic idea but even the treatment and the characterizations is ditto that of Naya Daur. Had Lagaan won the Oscar, it would have been a classic example of a plagiarized story winning this prestigious and coveted award.

Naya Daur (new era) is originally a black and white movie whose coloured version was released a few years back. It deals with the issue of unemployment because of mechanization in the Indian villages which was very much relevant and burning in that time. Tonga (horse-carriage) driver Shankar (Dilip Kumar) opposes the introduction of bus in the village because of the prospective unemployment of the tonga-drivers. The owner of the bus – Kundan (Jeevan) who is a wealthy businessman of the village enters into a bet with him that if he is able to defeat the bus by his tonga in a race, the bus will be withdrawn. How Shankar prepares for the race and finally defeats the bus by driving his tonga, forms the rest of the story which involves the factor of rivalry in getting the love of Rajni (Vyjayantimala) leading to betrayal of Shankar’s friend, Krishna (Ajit) also.Naya Daur is thoroughly engrossing and very impressive. Legendary director B.R. Chopra has directed the story of Akhtar Mirza quite nicely and maintained the momentum of the narrative throughout the duration of the movie which is a little less than three hours. The sets, costume designing, editing etc. are all praiseworthy. Production value is high, matching the great B.R. Films tradition.Performances are great and leagues ahead of their counterparts in Lagaan. While giving full marks to Aamir Khan and co. in Lagaan, I can safely say that the performances of Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh and Yashpal Sharma are no match for the respective performances of Dilip Kumar, Vyjayantimala and Ajit in Naya Daur. Only Paul Blackthorne, the villain has surpassed the performance of Jeevan in Naya Daur by his in Lagaan.The timeless music of Naya Daur composed by O.P. Nayyar (lyrics by Saahir Ludhiyanvi), boasting of immortal songs like Udein Jab Jab Zulfen Teri, Ye Desh Hai Veer Jawano Ka, Reshmi Salwar Kurta Jaali Ka, Saathi Haath Badhana, Maang Ke Saath Tumhara Maine Maang Liya Sansar and Main Bambai Ka Babu Naam Mera Anjana cannot be compared to the music of any other movie. leave aside Lagaan. Even  today listening to these songs in the enchanting voices of Asha and Rafi is a great experience.

Except the character of Rachel Shelley (the Englishwoman who is the sister of the villain but helping the hero), Lagaan is a ditto of Naya Daur. However neither Aamir Khan nor the writer-director of Lagaan – Ashutosh Gowarikar gave any credit (or even thanks) to the makers of Naya Daur. They left no stone unturned in blowing their trumpet and calling their movie as based upon an original idea. The truth is, they have just changed the bus-tonga race in the village to the Cricket match between the Indian villagers and the English team. Rest the complete story framework, characters, their mutual relationships, situations and climax, everything has been copied outright from Naya Daur.Though Ravi Chopra (son of B.R. Chopra) had said lightly at the time of release of the coloured version of Naya Daur that Lagaan was inspired by Naya Daur, no such accusation has ever been made by B.R. Films upon Aamir Khan Productions perhaps because the makers of Naya Daur were also glad that Lagaan represented India at the Oscars and went very close to winning the Academy Award in the foreign film category. However it was the duty of Aamir Khan and Ashutosh Gowarikar to admit the inspiration (if not plagiarization) and give thanks to the writer and the makers of Naya Daur which they have not done and shamelessly enjoyed the credit of making an ‘original’ movie. However truth cannot be hidden forever. Anybody reading this review can watch these two movies consecutively and he will reach the same conclusion that I reached when I had watched Lagaan for the first time.

While recommending this classic wholeheartedly to the movie buffs, I give just one message to Aamir plus Ashutosh – You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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10 Responses to A classic which is the predecessor to Lagaan

  1. dustedoff says:

    Very interesting post, Jitendraji. I am now very tempted to rewatch Lagaan while Naya Daur is still fresh in my mind.

    • Hearty thanks Madhulikaji. Please do watch Lagaan and then contrast it with Naya Daur. In my humble opinion, Naya Daur is far superior to Lagaan in all the aspects. In Naya Daur, almost everything is natural whereas in Lagaan, everything appears to have been imposed on the audience and various elements have been inserted in the narrative in the manner of ticking the boxes of a checklist.

  2. Rajeev Moothedath says:

    It is strange that you think that Lagaan is a scene by scene copy of this film. Both are good films. Lagan’s bacground was heavy taxation by the British.

    • Thanks Rajeev Ji. I agree that both are good films. What I am asserting is that the makers of Lagaan had lifted from Naya Daur what’s known as basic grains in the literary terms. They changed the set-up and the milieu but not the nucleus of the story. Besides, since you have seen both the movies, you can verify it yourself that the story framework, characters and their mutual relationships plus the twists in the tale in Lagaan are no different from those in Naya Daur. If you watch these two movies one after the other, you will arrive at the same conclusion. The makers of Lagaan cleverly changed the bet based on man vs. machine to a bet based on the taxation by the British while keeping the real story as the same. In my view, they should have been courteous enough to acknowledge the ‘inspiration’ and given thanks to the makers of Naya Daur (at least).

      • Rajeev Moothedath says:

        Appreciate your viewpoint. Looked at this way though, almost anything can be seen as “copying” as every story is about conflict and relationships. Perhaps, as you say they could have acknowledged influence of “Naya Daur” if they were in fact inspired by the movie.

  3. Harish P I says:

    Thanks for this new inspiration. There are many movies that copied from old ones. Raja Hindustani and Hero Number 1 come to my mind.

  4. gc1963 says:

    Lagaan is supposed to be based on diary entries of an Englishman who stayed in British India at that time.

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