In Champaner village in Central India Agency, farmers depend on monsoon rains for their livelihood. The delayed start of the monsoon worries them, so they request an exemption from the year’s tax (Lagaan) from the King of Champaner, Puran Singh.
A cricket match is in progress between British officers and a local village. Bhuvan, a young farmer, challenges them by deeming the game “childish”, which sparks an idea from Andrew Russell, the captain of the regiment. He proposes a wager that if the farmers can defeat his team in a match of cricket, their taxes would be suspended for two years. The Raja refuses to accept this offer, but after Andrew raises the stakes, Bhuvan agrees to speak for the village and accept the challenge.
The village elders are nervous at the prospect of losing the game and being required to pay triple the usual tax. Bhuvan refuses to apologise to Andrew or retract his decision, so the match must be played. Andrew’s sister, Elizabeth, takes pity on the farmers and offers to teach them the game in the interest of fairness. Bhuvan gathers a team of players.
Lakha’s animosity towards Bhuvan is clear when he tells Andrew about Gauri and Elizabeth. Unknowingly, Andrew forbids his sister from leaving the cantonment. However, it doesn’t prevent her from connecting with the farmers and secretly developing feelings for Bhuvan. She even attempts to circumvent her brother’s orders by sneaking out with the aid of locals. To add salt to the wound, Gauri–secretly in love with Bhuvan–begins to feel envious of Elizabeth both attending a village celebration together.
On this match-day, the ground fills with spectators from surrounding villages. The British team bats first, according to the rules of cricket, and has to gain one more run than the farmers by the end of the three day match. Smith and Burton both have promising starts, with Smith even being given a reprieve due to a Deva no-ball. Despite this, Bhura runs out Smith and Goli bowls Burton out to bring about a turn of fortunes for the farmers. Andrew and Brooks put in a positive performance and leave their team at 182/2 at the end of day one. To everyone’s surprise, Lakha is discovered as a traitor before Bhuvan is able to rescue him from punishment. On day two, Lakha takes an amazing catch to dismiss Brooks but this does not prevent inexperience leading some of the farmers’ batsmen into rash play resulting in early dismissals. Bhuvan courageously manages to carry them through to the third day but weak batters remain for them when they come back on morning three of the match. When it comes down to the last over, Kachra meets his challenge with one run off his last ball but unfortunately too little too late – still needing that all important extra point.
Elizabeth rushes to the grounds, her heart aching as she finds Bhuvan in an embrace with Gauri. In consequence, the British Empire orders the disbandment of the regiment and cancels tax collection for three years. Furthermore, Andrew is relocated to Central Africa due to mismanagement of Treasury funds. On her departure, Elizabeth steps out to meet with the villagers for a final time. Despite being unaware of her affections for him, Bhuvan expresses gratitude for her assistance before marrying Gauri in a grand ceremony soon after.
Elizabeth bids them adieu and returns to England as an unmarried woman.
• Aamir Khan as Bhuvan Latha (captain and all-rounder)
• Gracy Singh as Gauri
• Rachel Shelley as Elizabeth Russell
• Paul Blackthorne as Captain Andrew Russell
• Suhasini Mulay as Yashoda Maa, Bhuvan’s mother
• Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Raja Puran Singh Chawla
• Rajendra Gupta as Mukhiya Ji
• Raghubir Yadav as Bhura (fielder)
• Rajesh Vivek as Guran (all-rounder)
• Raj Zutshi as Ismail (batsman)
• Pradeep Rawat as Deva Singh Sodhi (all-rounder)
• Akhilendra Mishra as Arjan (batsman), the blacksmith
• Daya Shankar Pandey as Goli (seamer), the man with the largest piece of land
• Shrivallabh Vyas as Ishwar (wicket-keeper), the vaidya (doctor) in the village and Gauri’s father
• Yashpal Sharma as Lakha (batsman), the woodcutter
• Amin Hajee as Bagha (batsman), the mute drummer
• Aditya Lakhia as Kachra (spinner)
• Javed Khan as Ram Singh, Indian who works with British and helps Elizabeth in translating villagers language
• A. K. Hangal as Shambu Kaka
• Amin Gazi as Tipu
• John Rowe as Colonel Boyer
• David Gant as Major Warren
• Thor Halland as Captain Roberts
• Jeremy Child as Major Cotton
• Chris England as Lt Yardley, an English fast bowler. England also wrote a book about his experience making the film titled Balham to Bollywood
• Howard Lee as Lt Burton, English wicketkeeper batsman
• Ben Nealon as Lt Patrick Smith, Deputy and English all-rounder
• Simon Holmes as Lt Brookes, an English batsman
• Ray Eves as Lt Willis, an English fast bowler
• Jon House as Lt North, an English batsman
• Neil Patrick as Lt Harrisson, an English all-rounder
• Jamie Whitby Coles as Lt Wesson, an English all-rounder
• Barry Hart as Lt Benson, an English spinner
• Alex Shirtclliff as Lt Flynn, an English batsman