Today, we can’t imagine anyone but Aamir Khan as Bhuvan. But, initially, director Ashutosh Gowariker had seriously considered casting Shah Rukh Khan and, later, Abhishek Bachchan in the lead role. He worked with both actors in his later films, Swades (2004) and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (2010), respectively.
The film was shot in a single schedule of four-and-a-half months in Bhuj, in Kutch district of Gujarat, where an entire village set was built. The filmmakers settled for this location after scouting villages in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
Since no hotel in the area could accommodate the large cast and crew, most of them stayed at Sahajanand Towers, a large residential building rented out especially for the film. When they returned to screen the film before release, the building had been destroyed by the devastating earthquake that hit the region on 26 January 2001. The film was screened in Bhuj a day before it was released across India as a tribute to the people who helped make it.
The first assistant director on the film, Apoorva Lakhia (right), went on to become a filmmaker as well. He wrote and directed a handful of films, including Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007) and Zanjeer (2013). His cousin, Aditya Lakhia, played one of the Lagaan 11, the spinner Kachra.
Second assistant director Reema Kagti directed Lagaan's star, Aamir Khan, in her second feature film, Talaash (2013), with Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
Aamir Khan’s wife, Kiran Rao, began her career as one of three assistant directors in the second unit. Meanwhile, Aamir’s then wife, Reena Datta, was the executive producer who was in charge of the entire production on Lagaan.
Cinematographer Anil Mehta had previously worked with both Ashutosh Gowariker and Aamir Khan (they were co-actors) as an assistant director on one of their early films, Ketan Mehta’s Holi (1986).
During one day of shooting, 22 February 2000, Lagaan’s call sheet had over 10,000, including a cast of humans (recruited from neighbouring villages) and animals – from cattle to horses, and even an elephant.
To rouse the crowd of thousands, seated to watch the finale of a cricket match, the unit brought out star Aamir Khan to sing the famous ‘Aati Kya Khandala’ from his hit film Ghulam (1998). Needless to say, his rendition brought the spectators to their feet.
According to an interview with Paul Blackthorne, who played Captain Russell, the cast and crew spent six weeks just filming the epic cricket match that takes only 25 minutes of the film’s running time of three hours and 44 minutes.
In the midst of shooting the crucial scenes of the cricket match between the Britishers and the villagers, Ashutosh Gowariker suffered a slipped disc and directed the rest of the sequence from a bed on the sets.
Acclaimed poet, satirist and Padma Shri awardee KP Saxena wrote the Awadhi dialogues for the film. He collaborated with Ashutosh Gowariker on his later projects Swades and Jodhaa Akbar (2008). Aamir Khan found it difficult to say his lines in the initial days of shooting.
Actor Ben Nealon, who played Lt Smith, was the first wicket to fall on the British side. He dislocated his shoulder trying to reach the crease. Until the director called ‘Cut’, everyone thought he was just acting. Nealon returned to India to film Ketan Mehta’s Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005) with Aamir Khan.
The presence of legendary costume designer and first Indian Oscar winner Bhanu Athaiya worked like a charm for the team of Lagaan. The film became the third Indian movie to be nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. Lagaan’s music composer, AR Rahman, picked up two Oscars for his work on Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
Lagaan made Time magazine’s cut for its list of ‘The All-Time 25 Best Sports Movies’ as the sole film representing cricket.