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Lessons from Lagaan

Omkar Goswami


This is a random thoughts article, whose vaguely related ideas sprang from my thinking about Aamir Khan’s blockbuster, Lagaan. Consider the story. Our hero, a fine looking impetuous rustic lad, reacts to the ridicule of an obnoxious English collector by unilaterally betting the village’s future on the outcome of a game of cricket — a sport about which neither he nor his mates have the slightest clue. They then begin a process of preparation with the blind leading the blind. Viewers rollick at the hilarity of it all: a bowler who stands next to the stumps and rotates his arm half a dozen times before releasing a round object that is supposed to be a cricket ball; batsmen who swing cross bat at anything and connect by mere chance; fielders who can’t catch and let the ball slip between the feet; and so on. However, camaraderie conquers all. The native eleven become a closely knit team, even though they can hardly play cricket. Amidst all this, songs and dance happen, interspersed by the arrival of a good-at-heart young gori, who is ashamed of her countrymen and nurtures a crush for our hero.


The fateful day arrives. Egged on by the village, the native team puts up a heroic show. To no avail. The Brits pile on a sizeable score and, to make matters worse, take a few wickets on the  cheap. A pall of gloom descends at stumps on Day 1. But don’t lose heart. Salvation lies in faith, and so there is an all-night jagaran for the local deity. Day 2 is an absolute cliff-hanger down to the very last wicket. And, guess what? It is won by the natives with a six on the last ball — naturally struck by our hero with the gods on his side. The collector’s ego has been ground to dust. Honour is regained. Our hero is the cynosure of all eyes, especially those of his village belle’s. The gori leaves for Old Blighty with love in her heart. End.


Like millions of Indians, I loved Lagaan for its photography, its sheer fun, and its moments of cinematic excellence. But over the last couple of weeks I realised that I also loved Lagaan because it is so reflective of us. We love heroics. We believe that irrespective of how much we screw things up, faith will eventually come to our rescue. We love miracles. We love last minute action. And we love being generous in our defeats.      


These aren’t attributes that make for winning in an intensely competitive, globalised twenty-first century. Being competitive is a long haul process where every bit of the delivery machine is constantly reengineered to deliver increasingly superior value at attractive prices. It is about methodical planning, quality, excellence in execution and about never letting the feet off the accelerator. Its not so much about heroic sprints, but the steadiness and meticulously crafted strategy of a long distance runner. It is about winning so often and so frequently that we become used to the body language of winning. It is not about overwhelming headlines in virtually every page of the newspaper when we beat Australia at Adelaide. Instead, it ought to have been about comprehensively thrashing Australia at Sydney. Consider this: if Australia had scored what we did in our first innings at Sydney, would it have let India off the hook and play for an ‘honourable’ draw?


In fact, our Australian tour should teach us a thing or two. The Aussies certainly didn’t expect us to win one Test and post over 700 runs in one innings of another. Then see what happened. They re-grouped and, barring one ODI, beat us in all — and comprehensively so in Perth and the two finals. Satisfied with our moment of glory in Adelaide and the first innings of Sydney, we gave up the rest. And how did we justifyed giving up? “It was a long tour. Also,  we did the reach the one-day finals. And there’s no shame losing to the Aussies.”


So, here’s a thought. Let’s enjoy Lagaan as a film. But let’s play cricket and compete in today’s world with the grit and determination of the Aussies. That would get us used to winning more often. 


Published: Business World, Feburary 2004


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