Vantage point

Monday, December 20, 2004

Swades Review

Swades is a bold experiment that has succeeded quite well, cinematically speaking. Whether it will set the BO on fire, remains to be seen.

People who will watch the movie will no doubt compare it to Lagaan. It should not be be, because both movies are very different. Lagaan was an out and out entertainer. Its sole purpose was to entertain. The story was written with a definite beginning, ending, and a plot in mind. As a result it had a fiery pace, and kept the viewer engrossed on the edge of his seat at all times. Sure, it conveyed a few social messages, like caste harmony, but its main aim was to keep you entertained. Lagaan was like the exciting trek where you know where the summit is.

Swades is more of an exploration, a hike into unchartered country, both literally and figuratively. It will not keep you on the edge of your seat, and it won't get your adrenaline flowing the way Lagaan did. yet it is a movie par excellence.

What Ashutosh Gowariker has done is, taken inspiration from a real life story, and painted his own impression of it. An NRI returns home, and circumstances bring him face to face with the harsh realities of rural India. The movie is a story of how he reacts to those realities. So the two main components of this story are the realities, and the reactions.

The realities have been portrayed in a controlled manner. This is the first triumph of the movie. Often, while portraying the "evils" on rural India, we urban Indians tend to attach labels. So there are villains, and there are victims. This movie takes a different approach, saying that our propensity to find villains and push blame on them, is what often sets us back. It shows that in life there are very rarely any true villains, minions of satan.

The reactions have been portrayed in a very controlled manner as well. First there is distinct disinterest, apathy, and even condescension (with one dialogue being "Tum Hindustaani..."). Then there is a moment of epiphany, followed by the protagonist waking up to the harsh realities.

At no point does the movie preach to NRIs that they should pack up their bags and head home. It just tells the story of someone who does.

Shahrukh Khan puts in what is definitely one of the performances of his lifetime, and for once, he will deserve the awards that he will be heaped with. Gayatri Joshi looks ravishing, but looks a bit out of place. Kishori Ballal, playing Shahrukh's nanny, is extremely lovable. Even the kid does a good job.

So while usually, my impusle when i see on screen the following-

1. Shahrukh Khan
2. On screen Moms
3. Child actors

is to bash their heads in with a blunt object, I do not feel like doing so to any of them in this movie. And that is a huge achievement.

And then there are some side-jokes or oblique tributes. For example, Shahrukh's character is called Mohan, an oblique refernce to Gandhiji. And Gowariker has managed to get his lucky charm, Aamir Khan, on the screen by showing a clip from "Yaadon Ki Baarat".

Bottomline, a well-visualised, well-written, and well-executed project. Kudos to Team Swades.