Swades: A Tale of a Journey Homeward

“Hesitating to act because the whole vision might not be achieved, or because others do not yet share it, is an attitude that only hinders progress.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

The above words begin Ashutosh Gowariker’s 2004 blockbuster, Swades – We The People. In using that statement, the director has defined not just what the movie talks about, but what the movie wants the viewer to talk about.

Set in modern day India, the film is the story of Mohan Bhargav – a scientist working with NASA – who, led by pathos and longing, returns to India to seek his childhood nanny. What follows is a journey that transforms him from a NRI scientist who shied away from the water in the Indian village, to the thorough ‘desi’ who mud-wrestles with the village postman in the end of the movie.

The film, although very serious in content, still manages to pack the entire content mandatory in a modern day Bollywood production. There is enough of light comedy – clean, and yet effective, to bring in the families, romance, depiction of a simple village, superb (though sometimes shallow) dialogues, and three hours worth of reel to ensure that it is worth a watch.

The comedy, though suppressed, is one that you can enjoy. Mention must be made of Rajesh Vivek and Dayashankar Pandey, playing Nivaaran the postman and Melaram the cook respectively. Their comic timing has been splendid. Apart from the duo, most of the comedy is derived from the differences that exist between Mohan’s America and the Indian village – the best of them being his introduction to the Panchayat, and the village’s own ‘satellite’ will have the audience rolling in laughter.

The dialogues, penned by KP Saxena, are another treat. Though most of them sound more like lectures by a professor to his ill-mannered class – this is typical of Mohan’s dialogue – the jewels that he dishes out nullify the wrong ones. A R Rahman’s background score is amazing – very rousing and innovative – particularly the accordion in the title sequence. The finest examples would be the episode of the cigarette when the music and Geeta’s expression speak more than any dialogue could have and the dhoti scene when the naughtiness in Geeta is evolved for the first and only time. The songs, too, are a class apart, especially the title track which is perhaps Rahman’s best sung composition. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics, however, are a tad disappointing, and so is the choreography by Saroj Khan and Vaibhavi Merchant.

Nitin Chandrakant Desai’s production values and art work is superb – transforming Wai in Maharashtra to a fictional North Indian village. Bhanu Athaiya proves, yet again, what got her the Oscar. The editing, however, disappoints, and one feels that with the film’s length at three hours and fourteen minutes, Ballu Saluja could have done better.

The coup de grace is Shah Rukh Khan. Answering critics with this role – very understated, and yet, an amazing performance – he looks every bit the NASA scientist who wakes up to his country’s reality. He keeps the movie on its feet through pure screen presence. One only feels sorry that, due to whatever reasons, he missed out on the National Award. Newcomer Gayatri Joshi gets few chances to develop the beautiful young teacher, beyond portraying her as an uptight grouch. Both of them have little natural chemistry, which further weakens their unconvincing love story.

Ballal is more flavorsome as the wise, old wet-nurse, and supports like Dayashankar Pandey (as a cook who dreams of starting a dhaba franchise Stateside) and Rajesh Vivek (as the local postmaster) add some interesting colour.

All in all, it is a must watch. By the end I felt, like Mohan Bhargav on-screen, that I had gone through a period of transformation. It is like waking up to a new reality – one that is beyond the “Feel Good” campaigns of our governments, one which does not exist in our neon cities, one which does not enter the pages of our gloss-laden media journals. All hail to Ashutosh Gowariker for coming through with a bold movie – despite the obvious possibility of bombing at the box office.

Abhimanyu Jain


[Image Source: http://bimg.bladeron.net/files/1/Hindi/Swades/Swades.jpg]