Looking Back At Lagaan: Was Cricket a Breeding Ground for Nationalism?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.

2021 marks two decades since the release of Lagaan, a sports-musical film set in pre-independence India. Boria Majumdar reads Lagaan as a “commentary on the evolution and development of cricket in colonial India” where defeating the colonists in their own game was a thing of pride for Indians. Cricket became a medium for India to assert itself and the sport became the “breeding ground” for nationalism. 

Nissim Mannathukkaren questions Majumdar’s arguments on cricket and nationalism, stating that the film, by showing unity among all Indians, ignores the realities of the stratification of Indian society. Specifically, Mannathukkaren claims, Lagaan ignores Indian oppressors such as rajas and taluqdars and presents the British as the sole oppressors of Indians.

Majumdar replies to Mannathukkaren, accepting that while Lagaan was not an accurate representation of history, it serves as a source of the “lost histories” of cricket. Majumdar writes that the “banding together of Indians” was not the only reason the association between cricket and nationalism was made. Referring to the work of other historians, Majumdar contends that any victory in cricket against the British was seen as a “national victory” as the sport was the “only arena” where Indians could compete against the English on even terms.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Evoking Nostalgia, Letters, 2001
  2. Class, Caste, Cricket, AM, 2003
  3. Indian Cricket as Synecdoche for Our Times, Vikram Bedi, 2006
  4. It's Just Not Cricket! Srinivasan Ramani, 2014
  5. Much More Than a Sport, Dinyar Patel, 2020


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—"Cricket and Nationalism"


Curated by Anandita Chandra [anandita@epw.in]

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