Saturday 26 May 2007

Swades (2004)

For many people, that is the best scene in Swades (We The People).

It is for us too, and we don't think we ruin any of its value by "spoiling" it for you. It is the emotional climax of the film, when the protagonist accepts the potentially dirty water from a child at the train station. He had been exclusively drinking bottled water until that moment. Due to some earlier scenes, where he comes face to face with India's most acute poverty, both he - and we, the audience - are now keenly aware of this child's terrible situation.

Some viewers take this sipping of unclean water to be a more "patriotic" act of an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) returning to the bosom of Mother India, but we think it has even more to do with the Gandhian ideals that you must do something in the face of such poverty. You can't ignore it or avoid it, however unsanitary it may be to take that sip. From that point on, Shah Rukh Khan's character commits himself to bettering India.

Crossing the river.

If that sounds somewhat cheesy and idealistic, that's because the movie is - and shamelessly so. This is one of those socially-awake and big-hearted films which are like breaths of fresh air to Do Gooders with bleeding hearts, and probably very irritating to cynics. It is Bollywood in its songs and dances, but it is only escapist in its unwavering optimism.

We at the PPCC are big bleeding hearts, so we loved it. The movie is simple, but ultimately beautiful because of its message. Even when it becomes stiff and declamatory as it tries to cover all of India's Major Issues (female agency, the caste system, rural development), the moral purity makes us feel so fuzzy and inspired inside that we can't help but cheer. There are no villains, no melodramatic obstacles and self-centred love stories. The message is clear: Those who can help, must.

Shah Rukh the NRI gets lessons in poverty.

Travelling into the heartland.

Again, while many Indian reviewers have described the film as patriotic, ultimately about one NRI's journey back home, we would say it's less about reversing brain drain or cultural preservation, and more about the moral obligations everyone has to face social issues. Indeed, it felt a lot like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or other Jimmy Stewarty films of common decency. You don't have to be Indian to appreciate its values, even to be moved by that sense of pride in ancient heritage.

The requisite Pining for my Love song.

United by the power of cinema.

For example: There is a scene where, during a religious festival celebrating the god, Ram, the village puts on a play and Shah Rukh interrupts the song to add: "Ram is in my heart/Ram is in your heart/Ram is in every home and adobe/Ram is at every threshold." When the mythical "Ram" then enters to rescue the distressed damsel, there was such a feeling of collective joy and such a celebration of culture that, well, we cried.

Just watch the guy playing the villain, Ravana, at 4:30 as he remembers he's on stage. Lovely human touch!

We actually spent most of the film with a tear in our eye. Partly we think this was the music's fault, not only are the songs enjoyable, but the incidental music is also as emotionally manipulative and pretty as that found in Steven Spielberg movies. It combines Madame Butterfly-esque humming choruses with more modern accompaniment - it sounded a bit like the Gandhi soundtrack as mixed by Nitin Sawhney. The song Saanwariya is a good example, as is the following anthem, Ye Joh Desh Hai Tera:

Mother India calling you home!

In terms of acting, everyone is acceptable though not necessarily amazing. Shah Rukh is as serious and understated as the role needs him to be, but he still can't resist pulling out Blue Steel, especially during the courtship scenes. And apropos of the courtship scenes, newcomer Gayatry Joshi plays the female lead with a perpetually blank look and half-smile when in love, and bitchiness when out. Hey, we're all for liberated and empowered women, but why does feminism always have to equal aggressive? Hmmmph.

Notable supporting cast members were Daya Shankar Pandey playing, again, a lovable lower-caste town person (he was the lower-caste police officer in Gangaajal), and Rajesh Vivek as the hilarious postman (postmen seem to be the best parts in Shah Rukh Khan movies!).

Wet Shah Rukh? Yes, please.

Further links:


Beth Loves Bollywood said...

I'm not allowed to watch Swades when I'm feeling blue or weepy. I cry like a baby. That scene where she steps in the pond and then he thinks really hard and does it too - oh how I love that. I think that may be the most evocative movie expression of what I want relationships to be like.

Unknown said...

Just a bit of trivia, Swades is based on a true story of a NRI coming back to India of the 1970s after working at NASA. He started a grassroot organisation in Karnataka. The director's uncle is a famous scientist in India, and according to me that's the link to the story.

SRK is fabulous!

brat said...

Swades is inspired from the life and journey of Aravinda Pillalamarri.

Personally it's one of my favorite movies and the reasons are best described above. What I really like about the movie is how the makers have kept the tone of the movie very 'real-life-like' and not tempted away by the socially accepted Bollywood botch ups.
Shahrukh is amazing. Brings out the true character. no wonder Mohan Bhargav is my idol. :)

Souvik Basu said...

I think this is Shah Rukh's top 3 work in his life. His acting, the direction,some stunning dialogues & the poverty shown (which is still valid in 2020) is brilliantly done and much better than the mumbai slums poverty as Hollywood likes it. The train scene is so heartbreakingly good it can make a stone (hands up!) shed a tear. That was the best acting, direction without any words. As Satyajit Ray mentioned in an interview, we in India have a backward audience, did not appreciate this movie back then. But it has remained a cult classic.

N.B- In the current political climate, this movie might have been termed as a right wing movie, so I am glad it released when it did. This is a gem for anyone from any country.