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Thursday December 13th 2018

Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India | 2001

Lagaan filming location: Vijaya Vilas Palace, Mandvi, Gujarat, India
Lagaan location: the British cantonment: Vijaya Vilas Palace, Mandvi, Gujarat, India | Photograph: Wikimedia / RahulZ

Heavily taxed under British rule in 1893, the drought-hit inhabitants of (the fictitious) village of ‘Champaneer’, in Madhya Pradesh, find their already crippling tax (or Lagaan) doubled. Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) accepts the challenge of arrogant Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne) to a game of cricket (between the experienced Brits and villagers who've never played the game) which will see the Lagaan either trebled, or cancelled for three years depending on the outcome.

The framework of an Ealing comedy, the social indignation of Ken Loach, the widescreen visual style of Sergio Leone and beautifully staged musical numbers.

‘Champaneer’ is actually farmland east of the Rudramata-Kunariya Road just south of the village of Kunariya, about ten miles north of Bhuj, in the Kutch District of Gujarat, western India.

On 26 January 2001, a major earthquake hit the city of Bhuj, causing extensive damage and resulting in thousands of deaths.

Ahmedabad, the former capital of Gujarat about 150 miles east, is the nearest airport. You can reach Bhuj by National Highway 8A, or by train.

On the coast, 40 miles southwest of Bhuj, is Mandvi, where you can find the British cantonment where Captain Russell and his sister Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley) are stationed. It's the Vijay Vilas Palace, now a hotel offering rooms and air-conditioned tented accommodation on its own private beach. The eclectic blend of architectural styles, nestled in 450 acres of lush greenery, was built of red sandstone in 1906 AD for Yuvraj Vijay Sinhji of Palitana, a member of the Gohil Rajput clan. It was the summer palace of Jadeja Rajas of Kutch.

The Palace is also seen in the 1999 romantic drama Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (Straight From The Heart), with Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

Lagaan filming location: Prag Mahal, Bhuj, Gujarat, India
Lagaan location: Captain Russell is summoned to the British HQ: Prag Mahal, Bhuj, Gujarat, India | Photograph: Wikimedia / Nizil Shah

Back in Bhuj itself, the British HQ, to which Captain Russell is summoned by his superiors who are nervous about the effect of the match, is Prag Mahal Palace, alongside the Aina Mahal on Old Dhatia Falia. Stuffed with tiger skins – a reminder of the old imperial days when Indian kings were fond of safaris and animal shoots – you can now visit the palace again now that it's been restored following damage in the 2001 earthquake.

Thispalace was built in the 1860s for King Pragmalji, and designed by Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins in the Italian Gothic style. You can visit the main halls, and also climb stairs to the top of the 150-feet-tall bell tower for an exhilarating view over Bhuj.