Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Rajesh Vivek, Peter Rawley, Makrand Deshpande, Shah Rukh Khan, Daya Shankar Pandey
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
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"Go on, O Traveller. How beautiful is this world."
H. Bala | Carson - hey, we have an IKEA store! - CA USA | 05/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Plot SPOILERS here and there...
So, Mohan Bhargava (Shahrukh Khan) is an NRI, a Non-Resident Indian. Mohan is busy living the American dream in Washington, D.C., residing in cushy digs and fostering a thriving career as a NASA engineer. And his request for U.S. citizenship has just been approved. Yet, something is missing in Mohan's very good life. On the latest anniversary of the death of his parents, he fondly recalls his nanny, who had raised him and is the last living tie to his parents. On a whim, Mohan goes on vacation to visit his beloved nanny in India. It's a decision that will change his life...
SWADES is a good movie, a really good movie, and directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar, who made the awesome epic Lagaan - Once Upon a Time in India. And, like LAGAAN, SWADES is more than your standard Bollywood fluff. Both pictures have things to say about their native country, and both pictures say these things well. SWADES is not as dramatic or as excitingly paced as LAGAAN, and not as filled with cinematic thrills (SWADES, for one thing, doesn't have the sport of cricket to drive the plot). And yet, for all of its more than three hours of running time, SWADES does not ever stop being immensely watchable and moving.
While LAGAAN hearkens back to a time in the past and recalls an event in which India's rustic natives were able to beat the English at their own game, SWADES tries for a more modern form of patriotism. Mohan Bhargava, as mentioned, is a non-resident Indian who returns to his roots, initially to spend time with his nanny. But the remote village in which he finds himself impacts him overwhelmingly, to the point where he begins to question his worldviews.
Progress is slow in certain parts of India. For each metropolitan like New Delhi and Mumbai, there are hundreds of overlooked villages who barely have education and electricity. In tiny Charanpur, Mohan meets Geeta (Gayatri Joshi), a half-remembered childhood playmate and now a school teacher. Gita looks askance at Mohan's RV, with all its modern amenities. She's slow to thaw to Mohan, believing (accurately) that Mohan intends to steal away her nanny, who is like a second mother to her (yes, this nanny is the same one Mohan had come to visit). Geeta is beautiful and independent ("There's more to a woman than just wearing bangles.") and fights so hard to provide education for all the children of Charanpur. You see, old ways are so very hard to change. The prevalent thinking is that little girls do not need school. And segregation of castes is strictly enforced. So no mixing of kids in school. Geeta fights hard, but it's a futile thing. Education and electricity. The village of Charanpur does have electricity, but infrequently. These are only some of the things to which Mohan is exposed. But they set the ball rolling, as Mohan's eyes are gradually opened to the inequalities and abject poverty of his homeland.
Two of the most wrenching (and memorable) moments in the film happen as Mohan travels many hours by train and boat to demand rent from a farmer. But, it turns out, this is a farmer so very ashamed of his inability to pay and so destitute he finds it a constant struggle to feed his starved family. Yet the farmer finds the wherewithal to share his meager food with Mohan. That heartbreaking scene is then followed by a stopover at a railway station, as Mohan sees a simple little boy desperately attempting to get the passengers to buy a glass of water for a coin. Dare ya. Dare ya not to feel something at these scenes.
But there are joyous moments, as well. One such moment pops up early in the film, as Mohan, enroute to Charanpur in his rigged-out RV, picks up a shaggy-haired wild man, which is all a lead-in to the invigorating, toe-tapping road song "Yun Hi Chala Chal" ("Keep Wandering"). Then there's that one evening when, as a power failure cuts short a film screening taking place in the village square, Mohan gives a lesson about the stars to the village children.
(Plot SPOILER really comin' up now, in this next paragraph.)
Big things stem from little things. One of my favorite moments is Mohan, having finally fully committed to the betterment of Charanpur, using his engineering savvy and pulling the villagers together in a massive project to provide electricity...for one light bulb. These scenes play out so well that you can't help but be touched by the payoff, when the recipient of that sole lit bulb, in a dismal hut, brokenly caresses one word: "Electricity."
Shahrukh Khan has made a lucrative film career out of histrionics. And it's a thumbs up to his talents that we realize he's overacting and yet are still vastly entertained by his movies. But SWADES finds a different Shahrukh, one who is more restrained and, therefore, even more effective. How is SWADES as watchable as LAGAAN? Simple. Shahrukh Khan. SWADES, being mostly an internal story and telling of one man's self-discovery, depends largely on Shahrukh's reactions, his ability to convey emotions, his underplaying. When Shahrukh stops messing around and actually acts for real, as he does here, he becomes even more magnetic on screen.
Not that he's by himself in all this. The supporting cast is mostly excellent, and particularly Gayatri Joshi. SWADES marks her film debut, not that you could tell by it. A striking beauty, Gayatri's acting is nothing but self-assured and fiery. She and Shahrukh spark in their scenes together. Also memorable are the actors who play Mohan's nanny, the postmaster/wrestler (really great!), and the ambitious cook. However, the actors who play the NASA folks fare poorly (not counting Shahrukh, naturally).
SWADES is, more than anything else, a heartfelt valentine to India. A valentine, and also a bit of a dis. Love of country is counterpointed by the lead character's assertions that changes do need to be effected in certain repressive aspects of Indian culture and tradition. As one character tells Mohan, so is SWADES telling its homeland: "Go light your bulb."
This movie is over three hours long, and I enjoyed every minute."
Sweeping and Epic Contemporary Masterpiece
D. Cross | Hollywood, CA USA | 10/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I saw this film, I was largely ignorant of Shahrukh Khan and Bollywood and the quality of films coming out of India. This is as sweeping and grand, funny and touching, intelligent and down-to-earth a film as I have seen in any language. Hollywood filmmakers should take note that it is possible to make a big budget, visually sumptuous, intelligent and entertaining movie. The acting is great, the script is great, the cinematography is great. I'm not even a fan of musical sequences in film, but I found the ones here quite irresistible. Highly recommended for movie lovers of any language or persuasion."
BeeGee | Indianapolis, IN | 01/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of my favorite Shahrukh Khan movies. It is long, but what good flick from Bollywood isn't? I think this movie captures several poignant differences between the east and the west and reminds us that though we have many things in the west, it is not the things that matter, but rather the people in our lives. Two great scenes are the 'NRI' comment, and the drink of water on the train. Fantastic! It is sad to see Bollywood trying to become more like Hollywood, when Hollywood should be watching Swades to see what makes this movie so good. One of my friends from India refuses to watch this movie as he knows that if he does, he'll pack up and go back home. I gotta say that this movie was makes me wish I could go with him!"