It’s Not [Just] Cricket: The Art and Politics of the Popular – Cultural Imperialism, ‘Sly Civility’ & Postcolonial Incorporation


  • Andrew Jones



postcolonial identity politics, popular culture, cricket, Lagaan


Ashutosh Gowariker’s critically acclaimed Lagaan (2001), is a marvellous piece of cinematic troubling, which, via an astute use of allegory, reflects upon identity politics and power relations in both colonial and postcolonial contexts. Bringing two cornerstones of Indian popular culture together, namely cricket and Hindi formulae films, Gowariker produces an engagingly, affective alchemy of image and sound, which intervenes critically in the discourses of British colonial rule. This article’s intention is to demonstrate the mimetic devices inherent in Lagaan’s narrative, and how they mirror the regional resilience evident in the global success of both popular Indian cinema and the Indian performance of cricket. The sport of cricket and its role and effectiveness within a larger colonial project, is contextualized and reconsidered by tracing some resistant tangents in the sports evolution and performance in the Asia Pacific region. Making the most of the South Asian diaspora, which has exploited the networks and routes of the former British Empire, Indian popular cinema, likewise, serves to illustrate the point that local cultural dynamics can add their own nuances to global media flows. Interdisciplinary approaches are required to traverse within and between cultures, and to underscore the deep currents of contestation, as well as the radical and often surprising politics that characterise popular culture. In this respect, a range of scholars from different fields of study are consulted; Ashis Nandy, Arjun Appadurai, Chandrima Chakraborty and Homi Bhabha amongst them. Their voices will help to open up uncertainties in the conventional discourses, and to articulate some of the cultural politics and poetics at play in Lagaan specifically and the performance of cricket more generally.