Ashutosh Gowartikar made “Pehla Nasha” long time ago. It was almost a copy of “Body Double”. Then He made “Baazi”, a sort of “Tango and Cash” but with only one hero. And then “Lagaan” and everything changed. I don’t consider “Lagaan” a classic movie, though it was really good and the efforts and direction was good. “Lagaan” was the maturing of a director.
And then today, I saw Swades. You need guts to underplay an achievement. Have you ever had a feeling of seeing a great movie? I can’t describe it. But the feeling is great. I love watching movies. I can watch any movie. But I am not a movie critic. I don’t know the techniques and tricks of making a good movie. I can’t analyze a movie. But Yes, I can tell what a good movie is.
Swades is good. I would go one step more and say it’s a classic according to me. A story of a revolution but a silent revolution. Shahrukh Khan plays a NASA scientist who comes to visit his nanny. He wants to take care of her and take her back to USA. He comes back to the rural India and sees that far away from the developed world and a developing India, the rural India hasn’t changed much. The caste, the poverty and the exploitation still remain deeply rooted within the society. And then he starts being critical of Indian government and people. The rest of the story is about finding his roots back in his country.
The story on the first look is like a great recipe for soul-steering dialogues, high-pitched emotion and heavy dose on morality and patriotism. But surprisingly nothing of that sort happens. Swades is no Gaddar which could charge your patriotic emotion. Its no “Do Ankhen barah haath” too, which was a story of people changing for the better. Its no “Shahid” with songs of love of my motherland. There is no melodrama, no Sunny Deol style angry dialogue, no dance routine, no rain songs and no speeches of how a great country we are. It has nothing that a typical commercial Hindi film would have. But again, it’s not a typical Hindi commercial film either.
Ashotosh has decided to give the story a chance rather than the actors. Except, Shahrukh Khan, none of the actors are well known faces.
The emotions, the situations are under control. Right from the first scene, the story is gripping. The first scene where Shahrukh wants to bring his nanny to US and talks to his friend about it, notice that the memories are very normal. Nothing extraordinary. I thought, I would see some flash back of young Shahrukh playing with her nanny, or his parents death but no, his memories are over in a few sentences.
The flirting between Shahrukh and Gayathri are nicely done. The scene in which he allows himself to be humiliated in front of small children and still make Gayathri uneasy was good. The heroine has a mind of her own. Even when she is in awe of Shahrukh, she remains calm and does not break into song thinking about the songs they would sing in Switzerland or somewhere. Even when she tells him that she loves him, they don’t go and dance around. But both take a small walk and Shahrukh hesitantly holds her hand.
The film takes place in a rural background. The village and people are realistically done. The caste system is attacked but without the melodrama. Many have accused the movie to be preachy. To some extent it is. But with a story like that I don’t think it could be avoided.
The caste system is so symbolically shown without making a hue and cry about it. Notice the scene where the whole village gathers to see the movie on big screen. The higher cast sits on the side where they can see the credits of the movie as straight. The lower caste sits on the other side where they see a sort of mirror reflection of the credits. The little children switch from both sides to see the different version of the same movie. A symbolic gesture that both the caste are seeing the same thing but from a different perspective. The higher caste looks down on the lower caste. While the lower caste looks at the upper caste as oppressor. At the end of the song “Yeh Taara” the screen comes down with children of different caste mixing with each other and symbolizes the start of bringing down the wall between the two castes of peoples.
Shahrukh realizes that he has to do something when he meets a weaver, Haridas living in poverty. He gets disturbed by what he sees in Haridas’s home. There are no dialogues after he leaves Haridas home, just situation. His face tells the state of his mind. He does not need a big lecture to realize that he has to do something. It is something he understands and discovers himself.
Even in Haridas home, when Shahrukh is offered food, I was waiting for the typical scene when haridas children would ask for food in front of Shahrukh. But it does not happen. Poverty is not glorified or shown to evoke sympathy. It is just accepted as a part of life.
Shahrukh does not make a big speech about caste but tries to explain the problems of caste system. In the Daserra scene, when he says “I don’t think India is great”, that really shocks. No big dialogues about “Maa ki mamta and stuff”. He does not try to hide behind the curtain of Culture and tradition but attacks the caste system. He leaves everyone speechless, when he says in spite of our great culture and tradition we cannot empower a man to feed and support his own family just because he is of the lower caste and it is shameful.
The movie does not have those high tension and dramatic moment. Even when they are generating electricity, the whole scene of building a power station and generating electricity is over in almost 15 minutes.
The generation of electricity made a great impact when a very old freckled woman keeps watching the bulb. And when the bulb glows, she does not smile or laughs or shows any emotions. She just looks at the
Bulb and says “Bijli”. A symbolic scene where an old India looks at the future right in the eye.
True, the scientific validity looks shaky. Whether electricity can be generated from such a small source of water can be debated on physics laws and theorems. But the movie is not about how successfully water can be generated but how a small step can impact many lives and really bring about the changes. The movie is about not playing the blaming game but standing up and accepting that you are the part of the problem and you can be a solution.
In the end, even though every body agrees that a start has been made, Nothing changes overnight.
So if the movie is so great, why did it flop. I don’t know. Maybe, most of the people don’t identify with it. There is no melodrama in it. The director fails to dramatize the events which would make the audience sit up and take notice. It does not make blood run faster. But it did make my hairs stand. I don’t know. May be some other reason
Music wise, I didn’t forward any of the songs. It means the songs didn’t obstruct the story telling process. The songs are part of the movie working with the flow of the movie. The first time I heard “Yeh Desh hai tera”, I did not think it was great. But the way it is filmed surely made a big difference.
Performance, Superb. The director has been able to extract good performance from all actors. A movie, where the Mohan Bhargav, the character and Shahrukh Khan, the actor shines more than Shahrukh Khan, the superstar. A story, which rises above actors and superstars. At the end of the movie, you don’t remember Shahrukh but you sure remember Mohan Bhargav.
I like to specially mention that Ashutosh has grown as a director. It’s a very commendably efforts from him. He is sure mastering the art of story telling.
All in all, the movie is a well-told story. A story, which tells that India still is made of all its villages. A story, which tells us, we don’t have to point everytime to someone else for all the problems. We sometime can make a small difference with our small acts. Because we are what we make India and ourself. And freedom is exercising that choice.
Its about us, We, the people
Rating: 8.9 out of 10