A film that dares
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi, Kishori Ballal, Master Smit Sheth, Lekh Tandon, Rajesh Vivek, Dayashankar Pandey, V.S. Badola, Makarand Deshpande
Midway through Swades A farmer narrates his tale of woe to the film?s protagonist Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan). It is not King Khan?s scene exactly. For the farmer, one of the most realistic ever in Hindi movies, and that includes all Shyam Benegal films, has the lines. But it is in the way Shah Rukh listens, with a sense of empathy and a feeling of guilt so eloquent in his liquid eyes, that you see what a finely honed, subtle actor Bollywood?s biggest star has become.
Nearly a decade later, since he first said, Yeh dil maange more, for Pepsi, Shah Rukh has finally realised that sometimes less is more. Through his most restrained performance ever, he anchors and carries Swades along.
The farmer scene, perhaps, is the essence of Swades. This is not merely a tale of an NRI?s angst and his evolution within. In times when poverty, unemployment and caste have vanished even from the scripts of those who once won international awards peddling them abroad, director Ashutosh Gowariker has put the vanished village and its fractured soul back in the frame. Swades is a rare film that dares.
There are times when the neatly lensed film appears naive. Some characters are stock. Unlike Lagaan, Gowariker?s previous venture, the film is also shorn of searing drama. And, much like the recent Veer-Zaara, Swades too could have been fat-free.
Yet, with its gentle humour, the film acts as an entertaining vehicle for social change. And hopefully, it will do more for positive nationalism than the Union government?s Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP) ads ever will. Few recent Bollywood films have songs so beautifully integrated with the script. If only debutante Gayatri Joshi could emote, many scenes could have had so much more spark. Acting out a village school teacher with a mind of her own needed a new millennium Nutan, not a pretty, slimline dummy.
Swades is naive. But it is also decent, chaste and brave. Only the boldest of filmmakers can make a mainstream movie where the climax is not about saving the country from terrorists or uniting desperate lovers but getting electricity to a north Indian village.
Swades should be tax-free. Students, including those who send MMS, should be encouraged to see it. And it should be compulsory viewing for all the NRIs coming to Mumbai for the Pravasi Diwas next month.