Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 04/06/05 15:32:12

"We, The People"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It is safe to say, place your bet on it, Ashutosh Gowariker has forever exorcised the ghosts of his terrible 'Pehla Nasha', 'Izzat Ki Roti' and 'Baazi'. If anybody had any doubt that 'Lagaan' was simply the result of Aamir Khan's input, then all one has to do is go see 'Swades'- Gowariker's latest offering. As one Indian critic pointed out, 'Swades' is actually a sequel in spirit to 'Lagaan'. Both movies are distinctly about the indomitable spirit of the everyday Indian. And both films are about the triumph of that spirit.

It would've taken a gargantuan effort, and nearly an impossible one, to live up to the success(critical and commercial) of 'Lagaan'. And Gowariker cleverly avoids just that. Here is a director who knows his strengths and uses them to his film's advantage. His attention to detail was evident in 'Lagaan', but with 'Swades' he reinforces it in a big way. Every frame of the film is a tribute to the camera whether it is the mineral-water sipping Khan, the wet sarees laid to dry-out, the crowded second-class compartment of a passenger train, triple-seat scooter-ride, a mystic sage atop a caravan or choppers flying in the sky with the NASA headquarters in the background. Gowariker's style of cinema harks back to the days of Bimal Roy. Plus, he possesses the finesse of David Lean.

'Swades' takes a larger issue than 'Lagaan' and deals with it in the same simplistic manner that made the former so appealing. 'Lagaan' was about an Indian's conviction in himself and the manner in which his will spread contagiously through an entire village. It was a clever retelling of India's freedom struggle, albeit with cricket as a metaphor. 'Swades' is again about an Indian. This time around though, the Indian is free and not under the shackles of the English. But this Indian is far removed from the India left behind by 'Lagaan's Bhuvan! At the end of 'Lagaan', the voice-over mentioned that somewhere in the annals of our history, the story of Bhuvan was lost. In 'Swades', that Bhuvan is India- an India that has been forgotten and neglected by its own son.

'Swades' then is about Mohan Bhargava(Shahrukh Khan), a project manager at NASA, working on a Global Precipitation Measurement(GPM) programme. Mohan decides to go to India and bring Kaveri amma(Kishori Ballal), who took care of him as a child, to the United States and more importantly to a life of comfort. Upon reaching India, he understands that Kaveri amma has made Charampur, a remote little village in Uttar Pradesh, as her home. Here she helps making the children of the village literate individuals with the aid of Geeta(Gayatri Joshi), a teacher and later Mohan’s love interest. ‘Swades’ is a journey of Mohan’s transformation from a detached Indian(there is a scene where he refers to his fellow-countrymen as ‘you Indians’!), sipping on mineral-water and preferring to sleep in his comfy air-conditioned caravan than a rustic wooden cot, into an individual who is made painfully aware of his country’s pathetic state of plight that is in stark contrast to his luxurious life. And we, as audiences- resident Indians or otherwise but equally detached, become a part of this conversion too. Infact, there is a very poignant moment in the film that takes place at a desolate railway-station that arouses such mixed emotions of pain, disgust, guilt and ultimately resolve that it is impossible to control your tears and not feel a block of ache tearing its way down your throat. It is then that you realize that the movie, with this scene, is no longer just cinema. It has transcended into something even greater and important. There won’t be a moment like this in cinema for a long time, rest assured.

‘Swades’ is a cleverly written(Gowariker, M.G. Sathya and K.P. Saxena) movie. What is essentially a preachy, documentary fodder has been packaged with grand aplomb into an entertaining film-script. Much of the film’s success owes to its ingenuous characters- be it the US aspiring cook, the postman-cum-postmaster or the cute little kid. Shahrukh Khan pushes all the right buttons in a performance that is worthy of a standing ovation. Here is an actor who has immense talent but has lost himself in the melee of stupid, commercial Bollywood. ‘Swades’ gives him a role that he can not only chew into but live as well. Mohan Bhargava is not Shahrukh Khan, and thank God for that. Shahrukh Khan is Mohan Bhargava! Gayatri Joshi exudes confidence, in spite of being a newcomer and pitted opposite the King Khan in a movie directed by an Oscar entrant! But it is Kishori Ballal as Kaveri amma that endears the most. ‘Swades’ is also as much an achievement of Mahesh Aney. It is his cinematography that breathes India into the reels.

Mind you, this is not a popcorn-flick. It requires patience and probably reflection too. But the rewards are very satisfying.

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