If you seen any of his other films, you know immediately that Ashutosh Gowariker makes a superior product. His movies are the epitome of story telling at it's very best, and this one is no exception. Stripped down, Swades is different from most of Bollywood's main stream masala flicks. It is a Hindi movie which has no villains, but still illustrates vividly the miseries of life, which has no feuding families but still manages to bring out the realities of love, marriage, and adjustments. There are no corrupt politicians but rather the village panchayat, with real issues and real ego, but still clearly human. There are no events for shock value yet the storyline is still incredibly gripping. Swades does not tackle issues that are new in Hindi film, but it does it in a way that sends a clear message - change can only happen if and when we want it to, and this is true whether you live in India, Canada, USA or any other country in the world.

I watched an interview some time ago where Shah Rukh was very openly asked if he was an actor or a star. This movie proves to any naysayers out there just how talented this man is as a very fine ACTOR. As Mohan Bhargav, he is sincere, refined, powerful, yet we still get to see the charm and flirtatious nature that is his trademark. His delivery is completely honest - from his breakdown on the rent collection trip to Koda which ended in buying and drinking water at the small train station (which I think is the most intense and yet underplayed performance I have seen in a while) to how earnestly he commits himself to proving that the power to change things lies in each person individually and collectively as they work together to build the community's new electricity generator. I imagine that Mohan is probably the closest we have ever gotten to see the real Shah Rukh Khan, with all his brilliance and affection for denim. Also, I will never listen to Foreigner again without hearing his truly *ahem* distinctive singing in the background!

Gayatri Joshi is simply stunning in her only role to date. As Geeta, she is strong, idealistic and yet, intensely feminine. While she believes in the value of culture and tradition, she also recognizes her worth, which is plainly evident when she refuses a proposal over the continuation of her teaching. When she ties Mohan's dhoti looking into his eyes unhesitatingly, there's a subtle message hidden speaking odes about female empowerment.

The rest of the supporting cast is stellar. I've never seen a film, with the exception of Lagaan, where the community and it's inhabitants play such a large role. Kishori Balal gives her all into Kaveri Amma and makes her a truly affectionate character. Dayashankar Pandey (Mela Ram) and Rajesh Vivek (Nivaran) are fantastic and are genius in their comic relief roles (incidentally, both were also parts of a larger whole in Lagaan). The Village panchayat, the wrestling, the post office, the Ramlila - these slices of life in Charanpur were amazing and were brought to life by their inhabitants.

The music of Swades is inspired and grounded and has an entirely different feel than I'm used to in a Bollywood film. Of the movie's 7 songs, Yeh Tara Woh Tara, Yun Hi Chala Chal and Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera rank as my favorites. Yeh Tara Woh Tara has Udit Narayan singing about the strengths of being united, and is wonderfully picturized on one of the best scenes in the film in which Mohan tries to shrink the gap caused by the village's social caste system. The addition of the children singing and Shah Rukh's "tamed down" dance moves add to the rural feel. Yun Hi Chala Chal is a song that would seem totally out of place if you were just listening to the soundtrack. However, it is cleverly placed and fits into the context of the film just fine. It is rhythm driven, completely original and lots of fun. And, saving the best for last is Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera sung by AR himself in probably the most beautifully patriotic song I have ever heard. There isn't anything I don't love about this one including the beautifully subdued vocals and melody. Definitely one of his best overall.

Dekho Na emerges as the movies lone love duet, song by Udit and Alka (this lady is popping up everywhere for me lately!). Even though I wouldn't say this one is an amazing masterpiece, I wanted to bring it up to illustrate one point. I am a huge sucker for a love story and I had to mention how eloquently Gowariker handles the romantic liaison between Mohan and Geeta giving it a restrained treatment without ever overpowering the larger more dominant themes in the script.

And so, in the end, we all win. And isn't that how it should be?

22 Response to "Swades"

  1. bollyviewer says:
    July 14, 2009 at 3:30 PM

    I liked this film a lot too, but more for the novelty of its theme rather than its execution. Its the first movie I've seen from this decade that acknowledges the presence of rural India (in modern times), and its problems. There were several similar reluctantly idealistic heroes in 70s Bollywood. What is absolutely new though, is the presence of a heroine who is not just strong but self-respecting, AND isnt punished for it!

    The conclusion though, was a tad too neat and simplistic. And I am not sure I like the idea of India's problems being solved by an NRI - even Delhi 6 needed the enlightened US-returned hero to empathise with and solve all local problems. It seems to imply that the local populace is incapable of helping themselves!

  2. Anonymous Says:
    July 14, 2009 at 8:10 PM

    Good review of a good movie. All your observations are valid including the music, direction and SRK's acting. Editing was poor though - it was too long and could have been cut short by good 30 mins including the romantic song which some how seems to have been fit in for the sake of bollywood tradition of songs? or to attract the crowd? The length was tedious while watching this movie on the big screen.

  3. shell says:
    July 14, 2009 at 8:25 PM

    @ bollyviewer - I totally get your point, however, sometimes the people that you think should be responsible are maybe too close to the situation to even recognize that a change is needed (though the villagers did recognize a need to fix their electricity), and that's where the outside voice comes into play. I haven't seen Delhi 6 yet, and didn't really even know what it was about. I'll be interested to see another take on the story.

    How are you making out with the cinema drought still on in Calgary? I'm dying!

    @ Anonymous - This was the second time I watched Swades and I have to admit that both times I had to watch it in two sittings (not really due to time restraints, but that's usually what happens when you try to watch movies during the day with young children present). Perhaps if I watched all in one sitting I'd feel differently. I do agree, however, that Dekho Na could have been cut and we would not have missed it.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. bollyviewer says:
    July 14, 2009 at 8:56 PM

    Well, most of the good work being done in India IS done by the locals themselves! What makes things difficult is not the will to do good, but the strong forces aligned against it (poverty serves the purpose of several strong interest groups!).

    Re cinema drought, there is no drought of DVDs in my to-watch pile! Besides, from my place it takes about 1.5hrs to get to Marlborough (thats because I am dependent on Calgary transit) - so I rarely make it there. The last movie I saw onscreen was Chak De (where I think SRK did a way better job than in Swades) and that was a while ago. I am planning to try and catch Love Aaj Kal though, if it makes it here!

  5. theBollywoodFan says:
    July 14, 2009 at 10:18 PM

    I love this movie! Credit Ashutosh G. for keeping SRK in check. I wish SRK did more movies like this. When he tried it, the film was a box office dud. (He did Chak De which was a much bigger success, but this is a much better film, by far, as far as I am concerned.)

    Agreed on all you've said, and I liked all the song picturizations too, except the fantastic Yunhi Chala Chal, which had me cringing at the all too obvious and redundant placement of a Pioneer car stereo! :)

    I also really look up to Gayatri's character, which is probably why I'm still single, for better or for worse, LOL.

    Interesting discussion you and Bollyviewer have ongoing. My understanding is that Swades is based on a true story. I agree with Bollyviewer that it's not that there aren't enough people in India who are as skilled, who mean just as well, and/or who will make compromises in their quality of life for the greater good of their country. I think where Swades was heading with this is that there is no doubt that since some of the best brains that were born in India aren't in India and contributing to India any longer (for several reasons, monetary incentive, cleaner air, and a better legal infrastructure among them), there's little question that the country would be better off with more specialized brain trust than less. Also agree with Bollyviewer on 'the strong forces aligned against doing good'. Ultimately, little will change where it matters just as much (probably more) as it does at the grassroots, until the spread of these forces is limited. I liked how Rang De Basanti tackled some of that.

  6. ajnabi says:
    July 15, 2009 at 8:09 AM

    I feel like such a lame-o for not having seen this yet. You'd think I would considering it has universal acclaim, Gowariker, and SRK to boot. What the heck is wrong with me?! Great review, though, and love the screencaps you chose.

  7. shell says:
    July 15, 2009 at 8:25 AM

    @ bollyviewer - I suppose I should look at my pile and rejoice that I still have loads of stuff to watch also. I am really looking forward to Love AajKal so hopefully the people at MovieDome have purchased it. I don't know why they wouldn't have been right on board with these new releases.

    @ theBollywoodFan - I admit I really loved Shah Rukh's restrained performance (and credit does indeed have to go to Gowariker in part for that), but I also love that he's not afraid to do the over the top funny or sensitive stuff too. I think versatility is key in being a good actor, and while you can give the "serious" actor all the accolades in the world for their important work, maybe if they tried to do something light and entertaining they'd fail.

    Also, Geeta is a wonderful role model to look up to. Way better to stick to your ideals than settle, take my word for it.

    As for this wonderful discussion - This film is inspired by the story of Aravinda Pillalamarri and Ravi Kuchimanchi an NRI couple who returned to India and developed the pedal power generator to light remote, off-the-grid village schools.

    I think everyone has valid points, not that I'm an expert in Indian economy or idustrialism. While I don't really see it as a negative thing to have an outsider assist you in certain things (especially when that person still has ties to the community he is trying to help, as is the case in this movie), I absolutely agree that it is truly criminal when progress is stifled by anyone, let alone those people who are supposedly put in place to help you. I would have different thoughts on the matter if it had been a foreigner trying to help perhaps (though, really, how can any assistance be frowned upon if it's done with the best of intentions?).

  8. Darshit says:
    July 15, 2009 at 9:22 AM

    Was watching the movie last friday, and ran into tears again at that Train sequence. I love every moment of the movie. And supporting cast, is yes, too good. Love Kaveri Amma.

  9. shell says:
    July 15, 2009 at 9:35 AM

    @ ajnabi - thanks! I just got the program to get screencaps - I was so excited! Now, get with it lady and go watch it! :) I'm sure you will love it!

    @ Darshit - I challenge anyone to watch this and not get emotional. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. theBollywoodFan says:
    July 15, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    I think versatility is key in being a good actor, and while you can give the "serious" actor all the accolades in the world for their important work, maybe if they tried to do something light and entertaining they'd fail.

    Absolutely! Versatility is about hitting out the park any kind of film on the strength of varied roles. Isn't it funny that many actors get branded as 'serious' when they too had as many successful over-the-top or pure entertainer-type works earlier in their filmography, and decided to move on to more substantive stuff to keep things interesting (and return to entertainers every once in a while to keep themselves honest)?

    There's no doubt someone like SRK or Akshay Kumar could do the serious stuff real well, if they wanted. It's just that they've traditionally favored projects with greater likelihood of mass appeal and avoided riskier and more challenging projects as a result. Just as with anything, we get out of something based on what we put into it, and that approach to pure entertainers has worked real well for them, which is great. But it's precisely because of their talent that some wish they did more diverse stuff. Then again, maybe the benchmarks for diversity are too high, so my statement might be completely flawed...there I go thinking out loud again =)

  11. shell says:
    July 15, 2009 at 12:13 PM

    Isn't it funny that many actors get branded as 'serious' when they too had as many successful over-the-top or pure entertainer-type works earlier in their filmography, and decided to move on to more substantive stuff to keep things interesting

    Though I haven't seen a whole lot of his earlier movies yet, I would maybe classify Aamir into this category. I'm not sure, after so many "serious" roles, if it would be refreshing or feel strangely out of character if he was to do something like Kambakht Ishq. I think diversity is the key for sure!

    I also wonder how long we can continue this thread quoting each other! :)

  12. theBollywoodFan says:
    July 15, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    I also wonder how long we can continue this thread quoting each other! :)

    LOL, yes! It's like a never-ending loop, isn't it? But that's what makes it fun.

    So, yes, speaking of Aamir, he probably does fall into the category (as does, I think, someone like Naseeruddin Shah, who's done some great masala films back in the day). Something like Dil Chahta Hai, Ghajini and the 3 Idiots are good for balance. Some say Fanaa was there too, and they're probably right. So that's about 4 of 9 total this decade, which isn't a bad ratio, especially since Lagaan and Rang De Basanti were quite entertaining too. I *hope* he doesn't ever do a Kambakkht Ishq. Andaz Apna Apna or Ishq are more like it.

    The thing is, that relationship he built with the audience in the 1990s is what's probably driven his success with the atypical films this decade; it needs an Aamir or an Amitabh to take a TZP or Black to the extent of mainstream success those films have earned. Not to say others can't or won't, just going by precedence...

    Back to SRK, I really like the idea of him doing My Name is Khan. Only thing I'm worried about there is Karan Johar. Oh, well.

    Saw your latest post come in, will comment on it later tonight after seeing the songs...wish your hubby a speedy recovery!

  13. shell says:
    July 15, 2009 at 8:05 PM
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  14. Anonymous Says:
    July 15, 2009 at 8:05 PM

    Please do see Lagey Raho Munna Bhai soon. It is a really good movie and make you feel good too. It is one of the best movies of 2006 along with Rang De Basanti

  15. shell says:
    July 15, 2009 at 8:08 PM

    Back to SRK, I really like the idea of him doing My Name is Khan. Only thing I'm worried about there is Karan Johar. Oh, well.

    I can not wait for My Name is Khan. I know Shah Rukh always says his "next" movie will be his best, so I am expecting huge things from this one, and I'm sure I won't be disappointed, even with Karan helming the wheel (I actuallly quite like him and his films). He has said that this film is a departure for him, so maybe we'll see something more along the lines TZP - more substance, less glamour.

    Also I haven't seen Ishq, but it is in my pile to watch, nor have I seen Andaz Apna Apna, but I just did a quick search and now I HAVE to see that one. OMG, it looks hilarious and completely fugly. I can't wait!

    Thanks for the well wishes. I will extend them! I hoping he'll be out of the hospital by Friday - it's our 10 year anniversary. *crosses fingers*

  16. shell says:
    July 15, 2009 at 8:09 PM

    @ Anon - I will move it up on the to watch list.

  17. bollywooddeewana says:
    July 16, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    I rank this as one of my best Srk film roles ever, i actually prefer him in stuff like this than the commercial entertainers, i find him quite annoying in those

  18. shell says:
    July 16, 2009 at 10:49 AM

    @ bollywooddeewana - I agree that this is probably his best work, but I love his commercial appeal. Would you think less of me if I said I loved Om Shanti Om?

  19. bollywooddeewana says:
    July 18, 2009 at 7:43 AM

    I love OSO too, more for the style than the substance though

  20. shell says:
    July 18, 2009 at 12:42 PM

    @ bollywooddeewana - Phew. Thought I may have lost some credibility there for a second. :)

  21. Jules says:
    July 24, 2009 at 10:05 PM

    I recall really really liking this film. I thought it was quite an eye opener as to how some parts of not just India but the world are still living today.

  22. shell says:
    July 25, 2009 at 7:48 AM

    @ Jules - Gowariker definitely puts forth a strong message, maybe aimed more at NRI's than anyone else, but I still got it.