In the last few weeks, I happened to watch a measurable amount of TV. And that was because I was in such a perpetual state of ennui, that I didn't even want to get my computer out of its snuggly carry bag. So I went to the kitchen, made myself a nice sandwich and sat down in front of the tele.
Flipped channels and settled with Swades on SET Max.
Now whenever I see this flick, life suddenly starts looking much better. I have no clue what Ashutosh Gowariker did while filming it, but the guy genuinely made a masterpiece. What could have been any other film like the thousands that are rolled out week after week from the factory called Bollywood, this one manages to be so different, so sublime and yet so apt in its appeal that it takes the pain of a Hippo sitting on me to beileve that it wasn't a success. It did get the critical acclaim of a Slumdog Millionaire but nothing like the 'Superhit' tag that Om Shanti Om with its shitty storyline had got. Not even an iota close to that.
There are a myriad aspects of Swades-the-movie that I would love to discuss, that I find striking everytime that I am onto this movie, but this time, I would stick to discussing the part which had me shutting my ears to my friend's phone call for a treat. And that part of it revolves around the Sharukh Khan-Gayatri Joshi (Mohan Bhargava and Geeta in the movie) chemistry.
Lets get straight to 'Sharukh-in-his-vest avtaar' first.
The chemistry between Mohan and Geeta is astoundingly subtle. Dressed in their simplest, with the dreamy village setting, the naughty inuendos and it just can't get any better than this.
The best part is that their romance never gets overly sentimental. Its ethereal, and makes you have that really good feeling in your heart.
Geeta is the simple village teacher we all want to fall in love with.
Coming back to the movie:
It all starts at a book store where Mohan subsitutes for his friend at the cash counter. Unsuspecting as he is, he is dumbfounded by the beauty of Geeta while she is scolding another customer. Although Geeta misguides him, he does manage to reach the village where she stays with Mohan's Kaveri-amma. Geeta isn't the reason that Mohan is back in his village. He wants to take Kaveri-amma back with him to Amreeka. And that becomes the point of contention between Geeta and Mohan-'who gets to keep Kaveri-amma?' While both try to outdo each other in getting a response from the old lady, Mohan gets to experience first hand the life in a small Indian village. Gowariker sahab does very well in giving out important social messages through Mohan's interactions with the people that he meets and the trivial things that keep happening everyday.
The village postman cum postmaster who doubles up as the man running the PCO/STD/ISD shop , and another man who wants to go and open up a highway dhaba in America, become his companions for most of the movie when he is not with his 'girl'.
Although Mohan feigns nonchalance at first, his meeting with a low-caste farmer to whom he had been sent to collect rent for his farm, breaks his semblance. The 10 minutes of the movie after his dinner with the farmer's family, who despite their meager means still treat him to good food ( Atithi Devo Bhava ) makes the NASA-returned 'desi' realise that despite everything, his heart still beats for India.
Now the film gets to the underlying message, "For change to happen, we must change". So many issues that we as Indians brushed under the carpets for years are tackled in a very non-didactic manner in the movie. The villagers keep treating Mohan as a guest from 'saat samundar paar' but it is he who manages to get them to stop ignoring the problems they face everyday. Then there is the usual debate between following tradition or blindly aping the West. Gowariker sahab has done a wonderful job by ensuring that nowhere in the movie does the protagonist lose his strength. The film never gets into becoming one big boring lesson on the ills that plague Indian society or a civics chapter from a 10th class book. Very few directors are able to retain that kind of power with the characters. The director has also done well with the use of people as imagery to recapitulate the important social messages he wishes to highlight.
Mohan touches the issue of caste system with ease. Education for children has also been highlighted throughout the film. Mohan tries to find Geeta students for the school where she teaches and goes on to enlighten villagers in a way that almost makes S-I-M-P-L-E appear too difficult to spell.
In the end he goes on to make the lazy, always procrastinating, 'sarkar karegi -type' villagers to help him construct a mini hydel power plant and produce electricity for the village.
Mohan is depicted as the Indian who goes to earn a foreign degree, do that million dollar dream job and still has his heart fixed deeply in his country. He embodies every 'desi' who wants to do something for his 'Des'.... apna Des... Swades.