The first Bollywood production in 30 years to use synchronized sound. An Arri535 camera, brought over from Germany, was used to facilitate sync-sound recording. Most Indian films are dubbed entirely in the studio in the process known as ADR.
Lagaan has many parallels with Bhuvan Shome (1969). Amitabh Bachchan is the narrator in both the movies. The hero and heroine's name are the same, Bhuvan and Gauri. Suhasini Mulay who played the heroine in Bhuvan Shome, played the hero's mother in Lagaan. Both movies were shot in Gujarat.
The village shown in the film is titled Champaneer, which is supposed to be located in Madhya Pradesh. This is a fictitious place, but there is a place called Champaneer near Vadodara that is now a World Heritage Site. Coincidently, Vadodara and Bhuj, where the film was shot, are in the same state of Gujarat.
Lagaan's shooting was done in kutch district of Gujarat. The places are Vijay vilas palace-Mandavi, Prag Mahal- Bhuj , and the Field between Jam Kunariya and Kotay near Bhuj. Aamir Khan and his team were much impressed by the villagers of Kotay and Kunariya. After 6 months of shooting there was a high scale earthquake in the village. After this Aamir donated much of his Lagaan earnings for relief efforts to help the village.
Preity Zinta, Sonali Bendre, Amisha Patel were all considered for the role of Gauri. Aamir thought Bendre looked to urban and modern for the character. Eventually the role went to TV actress Gracy Singh, who was a known face from her role in hit show 'Amaanat'.
Aamir Khan decided to pierce his ears and wear earrings for his role. Incidentally, he had borrowed the silver rings that he wore from Kiran Rao, who was an assistant editor on sets. Aamir was at that time married to Reena Dutt.
Since there were no luxury hotels in Bhuj, Aamir Khan had taken up a newly constructed apartment complex and furnished it completely for the crew. Security was set up and a special housekeeping team was brought to take care of the crew's needs.
A lot of the crowd that we saw cheering during the match scene, were actual villagers who came every day to be a part of the film. They would sit patiently in sun the entire day while the film was shot.
Two of the British actors Jamie and Katkin were dating while they were filming 'Lagaan' and were eventually married off on the sets of the film which had a make shift temple in it. As it was done according hindu religion, Aamir and Reena performed the Kanyadaan ritual.
'Lagaan' started the concept of having a first assistant director as part of the crew for Bollywood. Farhan Akhtar suggested Apurva Lakhia's name to Khan. Lakhia eventually made his debut as a director with 'Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost'.
The cast and crew were present during the screening of the film in Bhuj. It was screened at a local cinema hall which was packed with eager viewers. During the screening there was a load shedding but the screening continued with help of generators.
Director Ashutosh Gowarikar had approached Aamir Khan for the film and the actor heard the script in details and gave his consent. But the challenge for the director remained as no producer was ready to back the film. Those who did agree, had their own conditions and wanted change in scale and story which Gowarikar wasn't keen on implementing. It was on the director's behest that Aamir Khan decided to turn producer for the film.
In 2011, Dev Anand suddenly realized that his 1990 movie "Awwal Number" starring Aamir Khan and himself was remade into "Lagaan" by Aamir without any due credits. He reiterated that the theme of a cricketing underdog with a passion to do or die for his country was originally showcased in his movie.
The cricket match was shot in the scorching heat of 48 degrees, including the scenes that had over 10,000 extras. In such sweltering conditions, several actors even fainted on set but the shoot kept on rolling.
Aamir Khan initially thought that the movie will not work although he liked the script. He thought the project was very risky. But after he read out the script to his mother, father and Reena (his then wife). They fell in love with it and insisted that he had to be a part of the movie.
Reena Dutta who was the executive producer, despite not having any film-making experience took her role so seriously that she even threatened to either shelve the movie or resign if the team continued working this slow.
Ashutosh Govarikar only casted those Indian actors, who weren't well in playing cricket to get fit in their characters. However, during the shoot of cricket match, it became his biggest problem cause they couldn't play it in that way.
Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic late Roger Ebert gave a glowing review to the film. Speaking of the vast expanse of Lagaan's filmscape, Ebert wrote, "As a backdrop to the action, there is India itself. It is a long time since I praised a movie for its landscapes; I recall Dr Zhivago (1965) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and indeed like David Lean, director Ashutosh Gowariker is not shy about lingering on ancient forts and palaces, vast plains, and the birthday-cake architecture of the British Raj, so out of place and yet so serenely confident."
Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic late Roger Ebert gave a glowing review to the film. He praised the movie for its landscapes and even compared it with "Dr Zhivago" (1965) and "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), and Ashutosh Govarikar with David Lean.
Bhanu Athaiya and A. R. Rahman, both worked in the film. The former had already won an Oscar for Best Costume Design and the later would won the award in 2009 for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.
Four years ago when Gowarikar conceived the story idea, Aamir rejected it outright. "The idea of a bunch of villagers in 1893 playing cricket to evade lagaan (levy) was not palatable on first hearing," recounts the actor.
The lack of comfortable accommodation wasn't the only obstacle the Lagaan crew faced. The filming was also interrupted by the noise of planes flying overhead and wind. The noises of planes used to delay the shooting by by 20 minutes.
The cast and crew members had to travel from their hotel to the location by bus at 5 AM, everyday. To ensure that shooting isn't delayed, Aamir laid down a rule that If you can't make it to the bus on time, you're going to get left behind. What he didn't foresee was the fact that he would become the victim too. One fine day, Aamir found himself stranded outside the hotel when he reached at 5:05 AM.
None of the extras on set had ever lip-synced to a song before. To make it easier for them, they were all asked to assemble a few days before the shoot and sing Ghanan Ghanan until they knew every word perfectly.
Two repositories of cricketing wisdom were Aamir's companions as he went about the task of putting together India's biggest sports-theme film - Mihir Bose's The History of Indian Cricket and Sachin Tendulkar.
For the film crew, the most daunting task was Champaner itself. Says Desai, who has designed sets for other period films like "Devdas" and "1942: A Love Story": "Creating a village on barren land is a mammoth task, a different ball game from putting up sets in a studio."
The house of a Harijan, for instance, had to be a thatched unit at the end of the village while that of the mukhia (headman) had to be centrally situated with a high, pukka roof. Recalls Kanku Dhanji, one of the 150 artisans who painted the houses: "Constructing Champaner was like rebuilding our lives. At the end, the village looked more real than our little Kunaria."
Before shooting commenced, actors actually stayed in Champaner's houses for a day to familiarise themselves with their new if temporary abodes. Says Aditya Lakhia who played Kachra: "I hardly speak in the film but my presence is such that I had to live like a Harijan through temperatures varying from four to 40 degrees Celsius."
No matter what the outside temperature, the cast had to don bandis (jackets), dhotis, corsets or gowns if the shot so required. They also had to shed their urban sensibilities. When Shelley went into a tantrum because she did not have a pin for her hat, she was firmly told that she could get one only the following day, when it arrived from Mumbai.
As preliminary preparation, Paul Blackthorn was asked to learn Hindi and horseriding. He said- "For three months I did nothing but rehearse my lines in Hindi. They were so tough that at one point I thought of giving up."
The name "Champaner" itself was not entirely a product of Gowarikar's imagination. It was inspired by "Champaran", the village in Bihar where Mahatma Gandhi began his agitation in 1917 to protect the rights of peasants in indigo plantations.
The film was screened retrospective as the Closing Film on August 18, 2016 at the Independence Day Film Festival jointly presented by the Indian Directorate of Film Festivals and Ministry of Defence, commemorating 70th Indian Independence Day.
After searching through Rajasthan, Nasik and UP, to find the setting for the fictional town of Champaner, the team zeroed in on an ancient village near Bhuj, located in Gujarat's Kutch district, by May 1999, where the film was primarily shot.
The script demanded a dry location: an agricultural village where it had not rained in several years. To depict the 1890s era, the crew also required a village which lacked electricity, communication and automobiles. Kutch faced the same problems at that time and hence the village of Kunariya, located a few miles away from Bhuj, was chosen.
After the 2001 Gujarat earthquake devastated the region, the crew, including the English, contributed to their cause by donating Rs. 250,000 (equivalent to Rs. 710,000 or US$11,000 in 2017), with further contributions during the year.
Avadhi, which is a dialect of Hindi, is primarily from a region in Uttar Pradesh. It was chosen to give the feel of the language spoken during that era. However, the language was diluted, and modern viewers can understand it.
Most of the 19th century tools and equipment depicted in the film were lent to the crew by the local villagers. Initially, they did not want to part with their equipment, but after much coaxing, they gave in.
A comic book, Lagaan: The Story, along with two colouring books, a mask book and a cricket board game were subsequently released to the commercial market. The comic book, available in English and Hindi, was targeted at children between the ages of six and 14. At the book's launch, Aamir Khan said that they were keen to turn the film into a comic strip during the pre-production phase itself.
In March 2002, a book titled The Spirit of Lagaan -The Extraordinary Story of the Creators of a Classic was published. It covers the making of the film, describing in detail the setbacks and obstacles that the crew faced while developing the film from concept to its release.
In the anniversary DVD edition, a National Film Award-winning documentary, Chale Chalo - the lunacy of film making, 11 collector cards, a collectible Lagaan coin embossed with the character of Bhuvan, a 35 mm CinemaScope filmstrip hand-cut from the film's filmstrip were bundled with the film.
The shot where Bhuvan hits the winning 6, the team and villagers run towards him to celebrate their victory followed by the sequence of rain, was a one take shot. With 10,000 people running around on set, possibly leading to a stampede, and with the risk of the crew and equipment getting mobbed, the director had just one chance to capture the perfect scene. It was a huge risk, but they absolutely nailed it.