It’s official. Ashutosh Gowariker has BALLS the size of his heart. Big, that is.
Guess what? Shah Rukh Khan did not ACT in Swades.
In fact, you can almost catch a thick ruler in the frame… everytime Shah Rukh Khan starts to act himself, WHACCCCK! goes the scale and out comes a pretty realistic, toned down, underplayed performance — a first from Shah Rukh Khan.
Shah Rukh fans, don’t worry, he’s still uses up his trademark stock expressions and SRK-wooing-the-girl-style in a coupla scenes like the one where he tells Gayatri not to miss him too much, before Ashu reminded him again that this wasn’t Kal Ho Na Ho and Gayatri wasn’t Preity Zinta.
No designer clothes, No grand entry intro for SRK either, no gaajar ka halwa maa-lodrama (again, a very good touch when his granny Kauveriamma breaks down much later. After meeting him after a decade… initially, she’s surprised, full of happiness, then she brings an aarti and then finally the emotional senti reaction which Hindi fillums usually show instantly on Maa meeting beta).
Swades is clearly a Ashutosh Gowariker film and it shows.
Right from frame one, to the last Shah Rukh Khan is just Mohan Bhargava, the Project Manager of the Global Precipitation Monitoring systems in NASA. The film in its first half is like … deja vu Lagaan, esp. when Mohan tries to convince the villagers. There it was getting a team for the cricket match. Here it is education for their children. You just can’t miss the Lagaan hangover when the villagers ask him about his job at NASA. After hearing about him working on a satellite around earth to predict rainfall, the village elder reacts: “Yeh kaam tho hamra Sahadev bhi karat hai.” (Oh, even our own Sahadev does it.) And soon, Sahadev, the villager known for his accuracy in predicting rainfall looks upto the sky and says: “Aasmaan saaf hai, do din tak barsaat nahin hogi.” (The sky is clear, there won’t be any rain for two days).
An embarassed SRK just says: “Ji, main bhi yehi kaam kartha hoon.” (I do the same thing there.) Remember someone saying cricket was similar to hamra gilli-danda in Lagaan?
But for these moments, the similarity with Lagaan is only in theme of empowerment and unity. Presentation-wise Swades has a very documentary, realistic feel. There are a few lines here and there that are preachy, but they are not really out of place in a film like this. In fact, to ensure that the film does not appear too idealistic, Ashutosh sacrifices commercial elements: There is no corrupt village head or politician, there are no fights, no villains or bad people in the movie.
The conflict is purely within the heart of Mohan Bhargava — should he return home or stay back in America as a “Non-Returning Indian?” It is the lack of a villain or a physical conflict which makes three and a half hours viewing a little tiring.
Swades hence is not like the idealistic, near-euphoric Nayak (Muthalvan in Tamil) where the protagonist shows how much can be changed. Swades is realistic, sensitive, classy and very laid-back to the point of being indulgent, resulting in very slow narrative where changes in characters and the story, happen over a longish second half.
There are plenty of beautiful metaphors and at least a coupla scenes likely to stay in your heart for a long time. The scene where a teary-eyed mineral-water drinking Mohan buys water from the boy at a remote railway station or the scene where Mohan visits a villager to collect debts and comes face to face with their reality as they serve him food with nothing much to eat themselves.
Man, these scenes really got to me, struck a chord somewhere within.. And if the movie can do that to me who is still in India and not all that guilty about “lighting the neighbour’s house” (watch it to understand that phrase), imagine what it can do the guilt-ridden NRI!
Yeah, the movie talks to the NRI, there’s a whole lot of English in the film, from the very first scene.
The movie sags quite a bit in the second half with at least two songs that could have been removed at the editing table, if not for the “moments” — like the ones we’ve seen in the teasers — SRK in a bus, in a train and on a boat in one song and the other being the Ramleela song sequence, where Mohan chips in to tells the villagers that everyone can be Ram by removing the Ravan from within. The Baba rehash ‘Dekho Na’, thankfully is cut-short and snipped halfway.
The songs are just there to showcase Gayatri Joshi, (a little too sexy for Sita in the Ramleela song) and the lady really can act. Pretty, pretty promising and with great potential too. The supporting cast is refreshingly good, like it was in Lagaan.
And Swades, also is the first movie to have an unlikely item appearance — Makarand Deshpande just hitches a hike for the ‘Yun Hi Chala’ song.
There is no climax. Just the song ‘Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera’ picturised (like I guessed in my earlier review) to give you goose bumps. Clearly, the new official national anthem for the NRIs.
Also, Swades has to be watched at leisure and with good company. It’s really long, but I think we, the people owe it to the movie. It’s not everyday that a filmmaker makes an earnest attempt in addressing a very relevant underplayed issue of brain drain.
Well, on hindsight, I don’t think I wasn’t too off the mark from my predicted review (read previous post) but for the length and the pace.
So, yes… rise people and let’s give this one a standing ovation!