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T.V. Critic David Bianculli

T.V. critic David Bianculli reviews L.A. Law: The Movie and considers the penchant of networks to look back instead of ahead.

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Other segments from the episode on May 10, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 10, 2002: Obituary for Alec Wilkinson; Review of the television show L.A. Law: the movie;" Interview with Phyllis Diller; Review of the film "Lagaan."

Transcript

DATE May 10, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Profile: Writer and editor William Maxwell, who died at 91;
writer Alec Wilkinson remembers his friend and mentor; Maxwell
discusses his life and work in a 1995 interview
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In the new book "My Mentor," Alec Wilkinson writes about his relationship with
this mentor, William Maxwell. Maxwell was a much loved, although not widely
known, writer and editor. He died in 2000 at the age of 91. Maxwell was the
author of several novels and short story collections. From 1936 to '75, he
was a fiction editor at The New Yorker, where he worked with such writers as
John Updike, John Cheever, Vladimir Nabokov, J.D. Salinger and Mary McCarthy.
Updike described Maxwell's voice as one of the wisest in American fiction, as
well as one of the kindest.

Maxwell was born in the small town of Lincoln, Illinois, where he lived until
moving to Chicago at the age of 14. Much of his fiction was set in the past
in towns like Lincoln. IN a few minutes, we'll talk about Maxwell with Alec
Wilkinson, author of "My Mentor." First we have an interview with William
Maxwell recorded after the publication of his book "All the Days and Nights,"
in 1995, the year he won the gold medal for fiction from the American Academy
of Arts and Letters.

(Soundbite from 1995 interview)

GROSS: A lot of the stories in your new collection come out of memories of
your childhood. How much do you feel that your memory of your past has been
your subject as a writer?

Mr. WILLIAM MAXWELL (Writer, Editor): I think about three-quarters of the
time, actually. When I was first beginning to write, I wrote largely out of
the present and was alert for any situation taking place around me that could
make a story. But the present, though very pleasant, didn't seem to go very
deeply into anything, and memories sit on the back of the stove like soup and
they get richer and richer for the things they attract to them and their
wonderful, kind of accidental quality.

But I also have a kind of abnormal memory, really. My memories go back, as
far as I can make out, to when I was two years old, and I have quite vivid
memories of before I was four. And it isn't that I haven't forgotten things,
but that I have remembered more things than people usually do.

And in my old age, there's an additional vividness to them, detail. And the
detail's sometimes so astonishing that I feel everything is there, everything
that ever happened to me is there. It's a matter of unhooking it and bringing
it out to the light.

GROSS: You're saying that your past has become more vivid to you as you've
gotten older?

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes, much more vivid.

GROSS: Is there anything that would explain that?

Mr. MAXWELL: I think it's a common phenomenon, but also there's--see, I'm
86--there's a breakdown in the sense of divisions of time between past,
present and future. The future is problematical, and the present is rather
meditative because I'm not involved in an active job, and I read and wander
around the house and the garden and do things that don't interfere with any
kind of meditative process.

So there's nothing to prevent the accidental memory from getting into your
mind. And I do think memories are attached, something brings them up, but
they don't usually force their way up like air through water. But I have had
a sense that the past is no longer different from the present, that I can live
in the past as I live in the present. I think of some part of my life that I
enjoyed very much, and I think, well, enjoy it. It's still here. You're in
it, even though the people I haven't seen for 30 years.

GROSS: Some people really say that people who they've loved who have passed
are still with them in a way that they never expected. Do you ever feel that
way?

Mr. MAXWELL: Spooks, you mean?

GROSS: Well, I don't mean like actual ghosts, but just feeling somebody's
presence.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes. People often speak of it, really, and they speak of it as
if they don't entirely rule out the possibility of ghosts. I think there's
another way that people are kept, and that is someone who's especially dear to
you, so dear that you can't face the idea of never seeing them again, you take
on certain of their qualities.

My mother was a very outgoing, hospitable and quite happy woman, and I'm
rather introverted and tend to be shy with strangers, and like to be alone,
like to read. And when she died, I was only a little boy, and I couldn't
really--I wasn't ready to give her up, and I haven't given her up. I think
about her quite often. As I'm older, I remember her face more vividly, but I
also am aware that I have a kind of sociable life. I don't say it isn't me,
but it's the part of me that developed because I took part of her in-demand
nature rather than let her die.

GROSS: It was a long time ago that she died.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes, it was...

GROSS: It was 1918 or '19?

Mr. MAXWELL: ...an immense time ago.

GROSS: Yeah. You've written about her a lot.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes.

GROSS: So you think you became more sociable?

Mr. MAXWELL: I think so, happy with people, because she was always happy
with people.

GROSS: Losing her when you were, I think it was 10 years old, to the flu
epidemic, it must have made you think that at any moment, someone who you love
could just suddenly disappear, 'cause people were dying all around her in that
epidemic. I mean, how many--so many Americans died. Were you always, like,
bracing for that?

Mr. MAXWELL: After that?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MAXWELL: No. My father was of very strong character and a physically
strong man. And once when I was a little boy, I was in a boat on the Illinois
River with my father and mother and he was fishing, and we were far out in the
middle of the river and a sudden thunderstorm came up, and there were
whitecaps on the waves. And it was quite a way back to the dock, and my
father said to get down in the bottom of the boat. And my mother was a heavy
woman, so he had to pull quite a lot to get her through the water.

However, we stepped out of the boat just as the cloudburst came down. I had,
as long as he lived--and I think I have it still--the feeling of being safe
because he was an honest man, safe because he was a decent man and safe
because he was physically strong.

So what effect my mother's death had on me was really that things happen that
you don't want to happen, that you can't bear to have happen, and that you
must somehow learn that there is no way to get around that fact. So I learned
to live with the things that can't be undone.

GROSS: From 1936 to 1975, you were a fiction editor at The New Yorker
magazine. And since we're talking so much about memory, maybe you could
remember for us a little bit what it was like to be at The New Yorker back in
1936.

Mr. MAXWELL: It was a wonderful place. I was hired to see artists. That
was the technical name for it, and there, at the moment, didn't seem to be any
office space, so they put me in a bullpen into a corner facing a drawing on
the wall by Thurber of himself. But it was outside Mrs. White's office, and
so I heard quite a lot that went on in the office. And she was a rather
stately woman, very handsome and very stately. And when private matters were
being discussed, she would get up from her desk in a stately fashion and walk
to the doorstop and release it. And then between the time it took the rather
slow door to close, I heard quite a lot. Anyway, she hired me.

And Katherine White and E.B. White and Morgan Gibbs(ph) and Ross and--they
were all half a generation older than I was. And I never felt that I was
responsible for the making of the magazine, but I admired them. I also had
reservations, because I was already a novelist when I got there and I read
enormously. And I saw that there were certain areas that they weren't willing
to touch.

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. MAXWELL: Well, it's astonishing now. They've long since got over that
inhibition, but they wouldn't publish a story that involved the Jewish
question. They wouldn't involve a story that involved homosexuality. There
were several things that they thought simply inappropriate, which was--formed
a kind of straightjacket. Eventually, of course, everything and every kind of
language has crept into The New Yorker. But this was the way it was when I
went to work there.

GROSS: As a fiction editor at The New Yorker, was it your responsibility to
carry out certain parameters of discretion--you know, to respect certain
parameters of discretion, so to speak, that you didn't really respect
yourself?

Mr. MAXWELL: I didn't have to carry them out; I just had to submit to them.
For example, there was a John Cheever story which had the sentence in it,
`Coverly(ph), with love in his heart and lust in his trousers, walked across
the lawn.' And the editor at that time, William Shawn, said that it
couldn't be published. I thought it could be published. I didn't see why it
couldn't be published. I thought it was a wonderful sentence, but it didn't
get published.

GROSS: Shawn won?

Mr. MAXWELL: Shawn won.

GROSS: Of course, I suppose. Right.

Mr. MAXWELL: Yes. Right. Yes. He had all the cards, but I think right was
on my side.

GROSS: So what was that exchange with Shawn like? Were you in his office
talking with him? Was this a back-and-forth on paper that happened?

Mr. MAXWELL: We met in his office. He put it in on a--when the manuscript
came back, he said it should be cut. And so I went to his office to explain I
should be--I didn't think it should be cut and I thought it was a good
sentence. So he said it shouldn't. And I said it should stay in the story.
And he said it shouldn't. So I just gave up and walked out of the office.
What more could I do? He wasn't--I knew him well enough to know he wasn't
going to change his mind.

GROSS: And what did Cheever have to say about it?

Mr. MAXWELL: I think I told John and apologized, but that's all that--he had
many grievances against The New Yorker, but that doesn't seem to have been one
of them.

GROSS: We're listening to a 1995 interview with the late writer and editor
William Maxwell. He's the subject of the new book "My Mentor" by Alec
Wilkinson. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1995 interview with the late writer and editor
William Maxwell. He's the subject of Alec Wilkinson's new book, "My Mentor."

I think of how much the world has changed since you were a boy, from, you
know, horse and buggies to, you know, moon walks and portable computers and
all of that. Do you feel like you still make an effort to keep up with all
the big changes, technological and otherwise, or is it not important to you
now?

Mr. MAXWELL: I don't say I make an effort not to keep up, but I certainly
don't make any effort to keep up. For example, I don't--I use a typewriter,
not a computer.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MAXWELL: Joseph Mitchell, my colleague at The New Yorker, is fond of
a Quaker phrase which is very convenient when there's something--some current
manifestation. He says, `It doesn't speak to my condition.' And if you're
86, of course, lots of contemporary things don't speak to your condition.
Your condition is placed 30, 40, 50, 60 years earlier.

I like the world I came into as a child. My father liked new things. He
wanted--he thought all the new inventions were marvelous. And in general,
I've tended to hate them. I would so gladly put an end to all flying
machines, all automobiles, all mechanical means of locomotion, except the
horse and buggy.

It was a beautiful world. I loved the sound of the horses--clop,
cloppety-clop, clop--going past the house. And it was unhurried. It left
time for brooding and thought. It left time for being nice to other people.
It left time for making presents, instead of buying them. It left time for
telling stories.

GROSS: The late writer and New Yorker magazine fiction editor, William
Maxwell, recorded in 1995, five years before his death.

In the new book "My Mentor," Alec Wilkinson writes about his relationship with
William Maxwell. Wilkinson has written for The New Yorker since 1980. They
met when Wilkinson was a child and his father and Maxwell were best friends.
Wilkinson dedicated three of his books to Maxwell. Wilkinson was included in
one of Maxwell's dedications, and Maxwell wrote the introduction to
Wilkinson's book, "Midnights." I spoke with Alec Wilkinson in 2000, just
after William Maxwell's death. I asked him to describe Maxwell's writing.

Mr. ALEC WILKINSON (Author, "My Mentor"): He was a terrific, elegant
stylist, immensely succinct; extremely complicated construction to his novels
and stories but all done to appear as if no effort had been expended at all.
Only the most careful reader would be aware of the intricate architecture and
the work that had been done to lay word upon word as if he were building a
stone wall, but he's a meticulous craftsman, a writer's writer.

He was very fond of a remark that had been made I think by a writer named John
Hall Wheelock--I'm roughly paraphrasing--that writing involves the imposition
of a line of words on a line of feeling. And I think more than any other
writer I can think of, the emotional core of Maxwell's work is always
paramount and profound.

GROSS: Maxwell was a longtime fiction editor at The New Yorker, and among the
many illustrious writers he edited were J.D. Salinger, Vladimir Nabokov, John
Updike. Tell us a little bit about his reputation as an editor.

Mr. WILKINSON: There was no one better. He was the great fiction editor of
the middle and late period of the 20th century. But he was--as remarkable as
his stature as an editor is, I think he's a much better writer. He was able
to be such an acute editor, I think, partly out of a great generosity of
spirit. He was never--unlike any editor I've ever otherwise known, except
perhaps William Shawn, he never appeared threatened by another writer's work.
He never felt an obligation to impose his own taste upon another writer's
work. He delighted in varieties of style, and even though he was a
complicated stylist himself, he--the difference in style, for instance, from
John Updike to Salinger to Frank O'Connor, another one of Maxwell's great
writers, and to Nabokov is as broad a range as I can think of, of the period
in English.

GROSS: He worked with you on some of your writing.

Mr. WILKINSON: Yeah.

GROSS: And you say that he would take his scissors and cut up your sentences
and rearrange them and paste them back together.

Mr. WILKINSON: Yeah.

GROSS: Tell us more about this method and what you got out of it.

Mr. WILKINSON: Well, he surely never worked with a writer less developed,
whose work was in more of a raw state than mine was, simply because I didn't
start writing till I was 24. I was a rock 'n' roll musician before that and I
just had this oddest idea to start doing this. And so there was a lot to
clean up. It was like you had bought a piece of property on which no one had
cut the grass or attended to the shrubs for a long time and you just had to
get out there and clean things up.

So he would really do that. I remember in my first book I had a scene, a
fairly long chapter, part of which was a monologue involving one character and
then it was followed by a scene involving two characters, one, the one who had
spoken in the monologue. And he took out the scissors and glue and combined
the two scenes into something that was quite comical, because you now had one
man going on in a rather sort of gassy monologue being interrupted constantly
by somebody in the background who was having kind of antagonistic conversation
with him.

And it was that sort of thing that began to make me aware of--you know, I'm
sure plenty of other editors might have read the same chapter and kind of
thrown up their hands and thought it was hopeless. And on that particular
day, we had sentences all over the desk, and I kept sort of shifting them
around. I remember his losing patience with me and saying, `If you think this
is a game, it isn't. Put those sentences down.' But we just--you know, that
was as radical a piece of editorial intervention as I ever saw him engage in,
but it was--what I think a writer valued and depended on and leaned on Maxwell
for was his judgment, and I always felt that if I showed something to Bill and
he read it and found it passable, then there was no other judgment I cared for
above that. No one I knew was capable of either greater penetration or
greater certainty or greater estimation of what value, if any, something I had
contained.

And I've heard this from all of the writers whose names you mentioned earlier.
More or less, we all seem to be in agreement about the benefit of his company,
his counsel, his estimation of your work.

GROSS: Now I believe William Maxwell worked with you more as a friend than as
a professional paid editor. Is that right?

Mr. WILKINSON: Well, yeah. Maxwell was my father's closest friend. And when
I started writing, I knew one of Bill's daughters, Brookie(ph). I actually
knew them both, Kate(ph) and Brookie, but it happened to be that I saw Brookie
at one point and she knew that I was writing and asked her father if he would
look at what I had done, and at the same time, my father said to Bill, `Would
you take a look at this?' And he had already left. I got to The New Yorker
in 1980. Bill retired from The New Yorker in, I think, 1976. So we never
actually worked together through anything but love really.

GROSS: Alec Wilkinson is the author of the new book, "My Mentor: A Young
Man's Friendship with William Maxwell." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Comic Phyllis Diller gave her final performance this week, retiring
after nearly 50 years in show business. We'll listen back to a 1986
interview with her. Also, David Bianculli reviews "L.A. Law: The Movie,"
and wonders why the networks are living in the past. And John Powers reviews
the new Bollywood film "Lagaan," which was a crossover hit in London and is
opening here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Made-for-TV movie "L.A. Law: The Movie"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Sunday night, NBC presents "L.A. Law: The Movie," one of many special TV
offerings this month tied to the television of the past. TV critic David
Bianculli has a review and some complaints.

DAVID BIANCULLI:

It isn't that "L.A. Law: The Movie" is all that bad. What's disappointing
is how average it is. And in a larger context, how this entire TV nostalgia
craze has gotten ridiculously out of hand.

Now I love old TV as much as the next guy. In fact, unless the next guy is a
curator at The Museum of Television & Radio or teaches TV history at Syracuse
University, I love TV a lot more than the next guy. But even I am bored to
tears these days by the reunion specials that are popping up almost nightly.
A "M*A*S*H" reunion, which happens next Friday on Fox, is one thing. But why
watch a reunion of the cast members from "Laverne & Shirley" when I didn't
like the show the first time around?

When you sink as low as to have a reunion special based on "That's
Incredible!"--and I'm not making that up--things have gotten incredibly out of
hand. We have Carol Burnett to thank and greedy TV executives to blame. We
have Carol Burnett to thank because her prime-time special last November, in
which she and most of her former co-stars told old stories and showed old
clips, ended up being the year's most popular entertainment special, except
for the Oscars. No one in TV saw that coming. This was at least the third
Carol Burnett clip show presented by CBS over the years, and none of the
others had drawn nearly as many viewers.

But all of a sudden, vintage TV was in, and every network ordered up specials
for the May sweeps. That's the period we're in now, when the networks do
everything they can to grab viewers because advertising rates for the fall are
based on the audience levels attracted now. Yet if the networks were serious
about TV history, they'd know that what they're doing is killing their own
golden-age goose. Whenever one network strikes gold in an unexpected
vein--ABC with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," CBS with "Survivor" and now
this nostalgia craze--all the other networks flood the airwaves with
imitations. That's why we've had to suffer through game shows and reality
shows by the scores and why ABC scheduled so many weekly editions of
"Millionaire" that no one wanted to watch anymore.

TV history tells us this happened with the Westerns when "Gunsmoke" led to
literally dozens of imitators on the air at the same time, and to the quiz
show until the scandals killed that genre for decades, and to the variety
show, until the Captain and Tennille and the Starland Vocal Band did pretty
much the same thing.

This month, most of the reunion specials have been content to show old clips,
grab a few new guests and attract surviving cast members to let us see how
they have or haven't aged. A few of these nostalgia shows actually put the
old actors back into their old roles. Part of Tuesday's "Laverne & Shirley"
reunion did that, and it was not a pretty sight. All of Sunday's "L.A. Law"
movie does it, and it's not that great, either.

One you get past seeing everyone again, a tele-movie reunion rises or falls on
the strength of its story. "L.A. Law" falls, because even without all the
exposition covering the lives of these characters over the past decade, all we
end up with is a sub-par episode of "The Practice." Here's Corbin Bernsen as
divorce attorney Arnie Becker going through his own divorce and being opposed
by a surprisingly familiar lawyer representing his soon-to-be-ex-wife.

(Soundbite of "L.A. Law: The Movie")

Unidentified Actress #1: Hello, Arnie.

Mr. CORBIN BERNSEN: (As Arnie Becker) Abby?

Unidentified Actress #1: Long time, no see.

Mr. BERNSEN: You're Laura's(ph) attorney?

Unidentified Actor #1: Is there a problem?

Mr. BERNSEN: Yes. There is a problem. She used to work here.

Unidentified Actor #1: Well, that is a problem. To the extent that you have
confidential information about this firm gained during your employment here,
I'm quite sure your partnership agreement precludes you from making use of it.

Unidentified Actress #1: You're Douglas' kid.

Unidentified Actor #1: Right.

Unidentified Actress #1: My, how time flies. First of all, I was never a
partner here, so there is no partnership agreement. Second of all, I left the
firm 10 years before Arnie and Laura met, so any information that I may have
would be woefully out of date. Shall we proceed?

Mr. BERNSEN: No, we shall not. What firm are you with?

Unidentified Actress #1: The law offices of Abigail Perkins.

Mr. BERNSEN: You're a sole practitioner?

Unidentified Actress #1: I have eight associates working for me. Hi.

Unidentified Actress #2: Hello.

Unidentified Actress #1: This is a deposition of defendant husband, Arnold
Becker, to be conducted by plaintiff attorney Abigail Perkins.

Mr. BERNSEN: You can stop typing because defendant husband, Arnold Becker,
will be marching into court to obtain a protective order barring said
plaintiff attorney Abigail Perkins from coming anywhere near this case.

Unidentified Actress #1: Unlikely you're going to get that, Arnie.

Mr. BERNSEN: Nice to see you, Abby.

BIANCULLI: Sorry, but to me, that scene feels written and staged and not at
all convincing. Most of the movie is like that.

I remember the good old days when "L.A. Law" was fresh, and I prefer to hold
on to those memories. I've gotten much more enjoyment this month out of the
good news shows, watching "Alias" and "24" and programs like that. And
they've both been successful enough that next year, we're likely to see a lot
more shows like them.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Coming up, an interview with comic Phyllis Diller. She just retired from show
business. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Indian film "Lagaan"
TERRY GROSS, host:

One of the world's two biggest film industries is located in Bombay.
Americans rarely have a chance to see movies from India, but that might change
with the release here of "Lagaan." The film has opened in New York and LA and
is out on DVD. Film critic John Powers has a review.

JOHN POWERS:

If any country is hot these days--and I'm referring to more than the climate
here--it's India. Magazines fill their pages with subcontinental fashions.
Each week seems to bring the advent of yet another dazzling Indian novelist.
And Hollywood's beginning to strip-mine ideas from the massive Indian movie
industry, affectionately known as Bollywood. Just last year, "Ghost World"
began with Thora Birch watching a Bollywood picture, and "Moulin Rouge" built
to a huge production number gleefully modeled on the kind of giddily
extravagant musical routines you find in films from Bombay.

Yet despite all this India chic, most Americans have never had the chance to
see a Bollywood movie. But all that could change with the arrival of
"Lagaan," which has already been a huge crossover hit in London and been
nominated for an Oscar here. This hugely enjoyable new epic--it runs nearly
four hours--is unlikely anything you've ever seen. It's like a bizarre cross
between "Rocky," "Oklahoma" and "Gandhi."

Set during the vanished British raj, the story takes place in the poor village
of Champaner, which has suffered from two years of drought. But the local
English commander, Captain Russell, played with lip-smacking villainy by Paul
Blackthorne, cuts the villagers no slack when it comes time to ante up their
lagaan, the heavy tribute they must pay their rulers each year. Russell
proposes a bet to the film's hero, Bhuvan, who's played by the Indian
superstar Aamir Khan. If the villagers can beat his English regiment in a
game of cricket, he'll cancel the lagaan for three years. But if they lose,
they must pay triple their tribute that year, an amount that would literally
lead them to starve.

Although none of the Indian peasants even knows how to play cricket, the
headstrong Bhuvan accepts and begin cobbling together an implausibly ragtag
team of cricketers. Of course, that's just the beginning. Bollywood movies
are all about gleeful excess, and "Lagaan" keeps ratcheting the action higher
with vile Captain Russell growing even more cruel and dishonest, the village
cricket team discovering athletes with oddball talents--they're being
infiltrated by betrayers--and Bhuvan becoming the object of romantic longing
for two women: the village girl, Gauri, played by gorgeous Gracy Singh, and
the elegant Englishwoman Elizabeth, who just happens to be Captain Russell's
sister.

And that's not all. In Bollywood, a movie barely deserves the name if it
doesn't contain big musical numbers. And "Lagaan" obliges with several
spectacular song and dance routines to music written by Indian pop hero A.R.
Rahman, whose sound is as familiar there as Moby's is here. In this song,
dozens of water-parched villagers bound ecstatically over the barren
countryside to celebrate what they think is an impending rainstorm.

(Soundbite of "Lagaan")

POWERS: Bollywood movies once had the reputation for seeming amateurish to
Westerners, but Indian filmmakers have begun reaching out to the international
audience. Not only is "Lagaan" technically superb, director Ashutosh
Gowariker has a far better sense of pacing and space than most Hollywood
filmmakers. But the movie's Anglo-Indian storyline gives it a cross-cultural
allure. In fact, English actress Rachel Shelley, who plays Elizabeth Russell,
is now a huge star on the Indian subcontinent. For millions, she's the dream
of the lovely enlightened Englishwoman who could fall for an Indian peasant.

There are many such dreams in "Lagaan," which is shot through with a
romanticized vision of Indian life, led by star Aamir Khan, who really knows
how to move and boasts the confident, charismatic good looks that poor
Indians can only aspire to. When Bhuvan's cricket team finally takes the
field against their oppressors, they're no mere collection of villagers.
They're a utopian dream team of national harmony in which Hindus and Muslims
play together side by side and even a crippled Untouchable proves to be one of
the heros. They achieve a community that India itself is still struggling
toward today.

"Lagaan" builds to the climactic three-day cricket match that with typical
Bollywood understatement runs as long as an entire "Rocky" movie. Talk about
milking it! This game has everything--heroism and perfidy, injury and
redemption, weeping and laughter, romantic exaltation and teeth-gnashing fury,
athletic grace and wicked foul play, not to mention yet another lavish song
and dance number.

By the time the game finally ends and the skies open and the music soars, I
know you'll agree with me when I tell you that "Lagaan" is not a film that
leaves you asking for more.

GROSS: John Powers is executive editor and media columnist for LA Weekly.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite from "Lagaan")
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