IMDb Top 250: #240 – Swades: We, the People (2004)

Swades: We, the People

250 films, 250 reviews. This is a pretty crazy idea, but who doesn’t love a challenge? Here at Cultured Vultures we’ll be counting down the IMDb Top 250 with a review for each from one of our dedicated film writers. Everything from Goodfellas to Casablanca will be covered over the next year or so for you film lovers to enjoy. You can’t say we don’t spoil you, you lovely lot. – Ashley, Project Lead

Despite losing out to No Man’s Land at the Oscars in 2001, Ashutosh Gowariker returned to India with a bigger win on his hands with Lagaan. Patriotism, the support of India’s finest in the music industry and a credibility that now pictured the director as one who needed to be on every popular actor’s resume, Gowariker return to the silver screen 3 years later with Swades – We, The People. It may not have generated the Oscar buzz like Lagaan did, but that was of no concern to either Shah Rukh Khan or Gowariker himself, simply because the formula worked its magic at the box office in India making patriotism, Gowariker’s trademark.

Based on a real life story and a South Indian literary novel, Swades is long at 195 minutes, Anyway, here’s the gist. As an ode to Gandhi and Gandhism, the lead character named Mohan Bhargava (SRK), plays a non-resident Indian/project manager in the U.S. for NASA. A graduate from the Ivy League U Penn, Mohan returns home initially to get in touch with his nanny, instead meeting post-colonial residents battling the lack of amenities, casteism, poverty, illiteracy, child marriage and labour, a refusal to change, apathy and no regard for education, Mohan’s dalliance with the female lead Gita played by a model turned actress Gayatri Joshi, begins when he dissuades the village elders from distancing the local school she runs on her own.

Besides the ex-freedom fighter who is the voice of reason, Mohan and Gita push for change, gaining momentum with each little step. Not until his nanny sends him to collect dues from a farmer Haridas and the plight he suffers actually moves Mohan to do more than just usher change slowly, does the movie actually gain traction. The farmer unable to pay his dues owing to problems with irrigation and the lack of resources is the pivotal moment in the movie, Things quickly pick up pace as Mohan funds the turbines and hydro-elelctric plant constructed to solve electricity and irrigation issues, making the village self-reliant. As his short stay comes to an end, Mohan is surprised to find Gita and the nanny’s refusal to leave the motherland, a compelling reason to finish his project in the U.S. and return to rural India, the backbone of India’s economy.

Not many know this, but Shah Rukh Khan declined the lead role in Lagaan, which we all know went on to garner international praise with Aamir Khan taking on the role. To make up for lost opportunites, SRK honed his acting skills and immediately jumped on the patriotic Swades – We, The People. Surprisingly, SRK was the only box-office magnet that starred in the movie. The rest of the cast was made up by veteran stage actors and virtually unknown people in the industry, perhaps to highlight the work that went into honing the lead’s acting chops.

The visual aspects of the movie are excellent, except that the story drags a little in the first half, picking up the pace in the second. Grammy-winner A. R. Rahman, India’s finest music composer, with his trusted aide lyricist and poet, Javed Akhtar composed the score. Anthemic songs are his signature and Rahman provides nothing less, although he was awarded the nation’s highest Bollywood honour, the Filmfare, for his background score. Rahman, makes magic both in the background and the fore, with elaborate and dreamy dance sequels ditched to provide idyllic visuals to tracks like Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera, India’s unofficial national anthem in my opinion, and Yeh Taara Woh Taara.

Despite its dreamy story and the quick turn of events, Swades did well for itself raking in the big bucks internationally. SRK, whose star power fueled the movie, emerged as the one whose acting skills were refined in the process. The Bollywood star whose onscreen presence catered to an audience that enjoyed the typical Bollywood masala-movie, stepped up his act and like the proverbial switch to fine dining, dished out quite a good course. Lofty in its ideas, slow yet steady in its execution, a meticulously planned crew and cast, award-winning musical score and a league of fans lining up to watch Gowariker milk the patriotism minus the cricket, Swades makes for an interesting watch, if patriotism is still your kinda thing.

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