Sunday, February 22, 2009

[DVD] Swades: We, The People (2004)

Motorcycle Evangelism

I'm been very much impressed by the films of Ashutosh Gowariker with his epics like Jodhaa Akbar and Lagaan, that it's a no brainer for me to continue seeking out his earlier films, especially so when they have been scored with music provided by A.R. Rahman. Swades: We, the People struck a common chord in some aspects of the story with Delhi-6, but only just, and I found it strangely compelling to dwell a little on some similarities between the two.

Well for starters both had an NRI (Non-Resident Indian, or jokingly mocked as Non-Returning Indian) returning from the United States, only to find themselves in a small town/village/district where the ways of their lives are a little backward, and the protagonist has to find time to get used to the slower pace, and life without its luxuries, even what we deem as basic like electricity. Email? Internet? Unheard of, naturally. There's also some time in both narratives dedicated to the well known story of the three way tussle in Lord Ram, Sita and Ravana, though the one in Swades benefitted from Rahman's wonderful music enveloping the stage play, in more complete terms than that in Delhi-6 (also scored by Rahman by the way).

And when it's a blast to the past, some common themes that seem to find themselves a staple in a Gowariker film are the tackling of caste (Lagaan), as well as religion (Jodhaa Akbar), with the need to see the bigger picture and to overcome these issues and put aside differences for the greater good. Arranged marriages too have no place amongst women who are strong, independent and self-reliant, but I guess such tradition and customs are still quite commonplace and widely practiced, for movies from then until now still featuring such arrangements in the plot, as if to mirror some frowning of the deliberate, and sometimes forced practices of culture and tradition, just because.

LIke how Abhishek's character echoed in Delhi-6, "India works, the people make it work", it's like a wake up call to the community as seen in Swades too, that while there are niggling issues like corruption and the reliance of social crutches in tradition or culture, things really work when everyone rolls their sleeves and get down to doing things. In Swades, everyone complains about the lack of electricity and the frequent disruption, but it takes one guy to wake them up and show them the way to progress. Aamir Khan took on such a role in Lagaan, and in Swades, Shah Rukh Khan plays that equivalent in Mohan Bhargav, a project manager in USA's NASA who journeys back to India in search of his foster mother Kaveriamma (Kishori Balal) because he's feeling guilty of abandoning her.

Clocking in at just over 3 hours (which recent Gowariker film isn't?), it allows plenty of space for a number of themes to be explored. The narrative also took advantage of the run time to inject the staple romance and exploration of Mohan in his new environment, and the vast myriad of likable characters here also add to the film's endearing approach.

Running central in the story is Mohan's tussle with his lady love Gita (Gayatri Joshi, in her debut and only role to date?) for his foster mother who's now also the only family of the latter and her brother Chikku (Smith Seth). Mohan wants to bring Kaveriamma back to the US to enjoy the last stage of her life amongst luxuries, while Gita wants her to stay in India. Both have their selfish reasons, and needless to say, falling in love just complicates matters. If affairs of the heart is not your cup of tea, then Mohan's one man crusade to fight for what's correct, and galvanizing support at the grassroots and community level, do make it a little moving as he sees what everyone doesn't, or choose not to, unless you go on the ground like he did.

One of the more poignant scenes, which also provides the opportunity for Rahman's Yeh Tara Woh Tara theme song for Swades, takes place in a community outdoor screening. With the screen set up in the middle of the field, the upper caste folks get to sit on the right side, with benches too for VIPs, while the lower caste folks sit on the opposite side of the screen, and obviously the incorrect side, having to view the movie in its mirror image, separated and out of view from the higher caste. In one fell swoop, Mohan uses the downtime of electricity interruption to demolish the unhealthy practices through children, who are always colour/race/creed-blind, and through them, hopefully, educating the older generation on the spot, while bringing about reasonable change of mindsets amongst the new generation. This scene alone sticks, amongst many others thanks to Gowariker's strong story, and direction.

At its basic level, with Hindi movies travelling the world for its global audience, the film seeks to call out to the NRIs to remember their roots, and to make that contribution back to their homeland, given that while there are problems that might have contributed to push factors, with the success, knowledge, capabilities and resources now ploughed back, they would effect some change no matter how small, and progress will always be made with that single small step in the right direction. The film isn't as heavy as it might seem, and that's the beauty of it, working itself on many levels.

I've yet to be disappointed by a Gowariker film, and am going to continue seeking out even earlier films, while waiting with bated breath for his next.

The Region Free DVD by UTV Home Entertainment is presented in anamorphic widescreen format. Visual transfer seemed to be truncated a bit on the right side, while at times you do notice some pops and cackles. Audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1, but there are noticeable moments where volume fluctuates inconsistently. Not the very best in quality though, and I didn't know that there was actually a 2-disc collector's version with more extras included.

This one was pretty bare bones, with subtitles available in English, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu. Scene selection is available over 36 chapters, and the only separate section is the standard fare Song Selection which serves as a jump point (and doesn't bring you back) to the movie where the song selected gets played - Swades Theme, Yun Hi Chala Chal, Yeh Tara Woh Tara, Saanwariya, Pal Pal Hai Bhaari, Dekho Na and Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera.

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