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Poised for the prize

Can ``Lagaan" rewrite the country's abysmal Oscar record, wonders ZIYA US SALAM.

PARMESWAR GODREJ is pitching in for it. A few polite calls to friends in America with just a request to watch the film. Mira Nair, despite her own dream presentation, "Monsoon Wedding," losing out to it in the Oscar's sweepstakes, is plugging it wherever, whenever she can. Call it patriotism on the global stage or just plain sporting spirit. "It is a sit-up-and-take-notice-kind of film. It is Bollywood on it's own terms," Nair says. Uday Kaushish, North India distributor of the film, feels it has a fair chance. He may not put it much ahead of the Bosnian film, "No Man's Land," and not too far behind "Amelie" but knows in Ashutosh Gowariker-Aamir Khan's "Lagaan," Bollywood has the best bet in years to win the coveted Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category.

And lately, anybody who is somebody, and many who are nobody, are doing their bit for "Lagaan." In Kolkata, they are signing Bhuwan's kurta before it is packed off for the glittering ceremony on March 24 in Los Angeles. In Delhi, they are scribbling `Best of luck' messages at the elite PVR circuit of cinema halls. The sober, now refurbished Shakuntalam theatre, is playing it once more. In Mumbai, they are organising cricket matches of "Lagaan XI" and even those not connected with the film are hailing it.

Says Danny Denzongpa: "It is a fine commercial film. It proves that you can make an authentic, aesthetic film without compromising on the commercial element." Aamir's peer Akshay Kumar feels that the film deserves an Oscar. Then we have high-profile editors, who would not look beyond Vajpayee-Advani, Sonia-Mulayam tiffs, to take time out and watch this film. And what's more, actually write about it. On edit page. Veritably, "Lagaan" is the flavour of the season. But, hey, it is much more than a seasonal flavour. In many ways, it is a benchmark film. The film, many dared to compare with "Do Bigah Zameen" — before the film was released on June 15 last year across the country and the script of which Aamir Khan himself had rejected after the first hearing (he changed his mind three months later after Gowariker persuaded him to hear the full script) — is now ready to rewrite India's abysmal record at the Oscar's where even the great Satyajit Ray had to wait until the fag end of his illustrious career to get an award.

"Lagaan" may not be many people's favourite. But it is the dark horse that may just gallop to victory at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards. Or so, a billion people hope. Interestingly, it has everything that critics, born and bred in the First World expect to come from the third world - drought, penury, village. But then it is much more than just a third world offering. There is the triumph of human spirit against heavy odds, the coming to the fore of a village in its very own struggle against the entrenched forces of feudalism and colonialism. And yes, it is a patriotic film without being didactic. It makes patriotism the mantra of peaceful times. It is an exhilarating film that packs in the popular game of cricket with a dash of credible patriotism and feel-good romance.

One hopes that Aamir Khan and company - who adopted a village in Gujarat for shooting the film - will not have as tough a task at the Oscar's night as they had in finding the `khatiya' - cot - for the film. Reportedly, the local villagers were not ready to part with their essential commodity despite being offered a lucrative sum. More out of sentiment, one would say. One hopes that the "Lagaan" team makes it at the Oscar's. It will not be their success alone. It will be that of an industry that churns out nearly a thousand films every year and yet manages never to get noticed.

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