Friday Favorites – Swades

As you may have noticed, I’ve been kind of pathetic about posting lately. Swades deserves to be a Friday favorite; it’s one of my favorite movies, and I don’t mean out of just Hindi films. I’m going to sit down and stick through this review. Wish me luck.

Swades (Homeland): We the People was released in 2004. It was written, produced, and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker with music by A. R. Rahman, and lyrics by Javed Akhtar. Interestingly, there is a musical theme used in the film that Rahman worked into Slumdog Millionaire— if you’re familiar with Slumdog, keep an ear out for it.

If you want a summary, you can visit the Wikipedia page, but to give you a really basic idea– Mohan (Shahrukh) works for NASA, but goes back to India to find Kaveri Amma (Kishori Balal), the woman who raised him. He finds her living with Gita (Gayatri Joshi, in her first and only film), a young woman in a small village which he finds quite primitive. But he’s captivated by Gita, and is drawn in by the problems he sees in the village. He and Gita work to change them, and gradually the people of the town become quite impressed by him. He has to return to the US, and asks the two women to come with him. You’ll have to watch it to see what happens. :)

Quick note: If you can’t figure out how to pronounce “Swades”, that’s okay, neither could I. It’s Swah-dace. If you’re familiar with the term “Desi” this might make sense to you. If not… it’s okay, you’ll get there. I just called it “Swedes” for a while because otherwise I couldn’t remember the name!

I liked this film a lot. It was different. Yeh Tara Woh Tara , (which won Udit Narayan a National Film Award for Best Playback Singer) is the only dance scene, and it’s certainly not typical Hindi-film fare (film fare? get it? Filmfare?). There’s a very gentle beauty to this film that I think (speaking as an ignorant Westerner) shows a very amazing India without resorting to the crazy wealth you’ll see in Karan Johar films or the “poverty porn” you see in a lot of Western films (like Slumdog). And it was really cool to see them watching Yadon Ki Baraat, with Master Aamir!

I felt like I could relate to the people in this film. Though Mohan sees them as primitive, it’s obvious that the director does not. They’re just people living the way they like to live. There are some things they endure that should be changed (child-marriage, disturbingly oppressive poverty, etc) and Mohan helps them with this, but not by demeaning them; he does so by recognizing their worth. The old ways are not bad because they’re old; the bad old ways are bad because they’re bad. Keep the ones that are good, because they bring meaning to life.

^ articulate I am not.

The India in this film felt very real– I can’t really evaluate how realistic it was, but it certainly felt real, which is a good thing where films are concerned, whether or not it is accurate. There was nothing jarring about the way it was presented, and I could believe this place actually exists. It wasn’t polished up, but it didn’t seem to be presented as any dirtier than it actually is just for effect.

I can’t say how much I loved Smith Seth as Chiku. He was not annoying, yet he was also realistic. I think Indian child actors often shine this way. He was completely endearing.

This may be a bit of a silly note, but when I first started watching Hindi films, I found the traditional wrestling to be totally bizarre. It scared me a little. I feel this way about American wrestling, but this was even worse. Couldn’t those guys with mustaches put on some clothes and stop grappling with each other?! Well, I feel like this film is a safer introduction to wrestling which may not make you feel as uncomfortable– because it’s presented as something a little weird, at first. It gives you time to warm up to this tradition that you may not be able to understand.

Some have complained that the film is overly long and dull. It’s certainly not fast-paced and action-packed. Rather, it’s carefully and beautifully told. It does require a bit of patience, but there’s certainly a pay off. I might compare it to a Jane Austen film– watch for the beautiful scenery, the fascinating dialogue, the endearing and realistic characters, and the insightful message.

Even if you don’t like Shahrukh (I know you’re out there) Swades is worth seeing. It’s definitely not typical, hammy, over-acting SRK.

After all these positive things I’ve said, I need to make it clear that there was one thing that did bother me. And it bothered me a lot. The story was clearly Christian in nature, as hard as they tried to make it Hindu (I’d elaborate, but that would mean spoilers) but in the end, they’re still stuck in Hinduism, and I don’t think any of the change has gotten them anywhere.  Physically they’re a lot better off, emotionally they’re a lot better off– but as a Christian it really broke my heart to see them turning to their religion at the end, not realizing that their false religion is what got them there in the first place. This was the saddest ending for me, because it presented such a false hope. I would rather have the characters believe in something silly, like love at first sight.

But, overall, this movie is highly recommended. I think anyone who feels a deep love for the place they grew up can relate to it. I was quite drawn to Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera— it reminded me of home. Not India, but home. And I think that’s the power of the film– it’s truly Indian, but it is meaningful for anyone.


1 Comment

  1. April 7, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    […] like Swades, the distinctly Hindu nature of this film bothered me. It seems that more serious Hindi films tend […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: