In the post-liberalisation phase in India, (after 1990) when the market of India had opened up for Foreign Direct Investment, Hindi films began to dominate with new kind of music, and romance, with a heightened form of glamour and consumption. The heroes were busy competing to be the best romancer, but Lagaan seemed to break a lot of norms; enough to gain the attention of The Academy, in a Hindi mainstream film. WIthout the face of Aamir Khan, the music of A R Rahman, it is difficult to form a conclusion whether Lagaan would have been as popular as it is today. But Aamir Khan had been one of the actors, who was willing to take the risk.
Writer Satyajit Bhatkal, in his book, The Spirit of Lagaan mentioned, that director Ashutosh Gowarikar had been heavily disheartened by the lack of his success as an actor, director. Lagaan had been a risk he was willing to take. Javed Akhtar had suggested making a list of all the 'don'ts' in Indian cinema, which were broken altogether in Lagaan. To begin with, it had been a period film. This was a time when such a genre was not a marketing trend.
Lagaan had a rural backdrop, hence it had been immediately thought to be unpopular. Also, watching an Indian star don dhoti, and speak in a rural tongue, instead of sophisticated English, increase his risk as a star since most of his contemporaries were wearing branded clothes. There was only one romantic song, half of which had been in English.
The book further stated that Aamir Khan had been eventually persuaded to act in the film by Ashutosh because he loved the story, not because he calculated its generic potential and was willing to take a risk. He had earlier worked in Deepa Mehta's 1947 Earth, John Matthew Mathan's Sarfarosh but which paid off.
The poor Indian village guy, winning against the mighty British
Way before 'aatmanirbhar' nationalism, became a trend, Bhuvan was already playing the game his way. He individually identified the potential of a Dalit sweeper, the strong Muslim runner, batsman, and encouraged each of these villagers to stand up for their own right and not be afraid of the British and eventually defeated them in their own game. A Dalit, brahmin, Muslim, Sikh, soon became a part of the cricket team and defeated a team full of well-trained British cricketers.
The politics of Lagaan had been well layered, and even in the rural locality, the idea of India had been about inclusivity, unity, that had been strong enough to defeat foreign policies. Most of us, even after gaining independence in 1947, lived under a colonised mentality. Speaking Hindi seemed uncool, wearing dhoti, sarees on screen seemed passe. The imperialists may have left the country but the urge to mock them, dress their way had not left our mind. It was Aamir Khan again, who took the risk.
The film had little in its favour to undergo a major marketing strategy. There were more than one Britishers, but not a sight of London. Surprisingly it created an audience, that even generated interest in the fans of Karan Johar and the producer himself.
Lagaan celebrated the idea of India, the patriots, the lovers (Radha and Krishna), the Indian gods, the power of the temple, the slaves of the Britishers, and those who later reformed themselves. Neither Bhuvan nor Ashutosh Gowarikar passed any judgments but brought in an idea of inclusivity without vociferously stating caste, class, sex, or religion.