Saturday, June 14, 2014

Swades: Of Ice Dissolving In Its Own Water

Last week the news came that Ashutosh Gowariker confirmed Hrithik Roshan as the lead actor in his next film — Mohenjo Daro. I had been thinking to rewatch Swades for the last few weeks and this news pushed me to go ahead. Swades is a marvelous film. It is a film that can actually be called a cult classic — a film that did not do very well at the time of its release but over the years has developed a cult following among the movie-watching audience. One of the reasons that I have really started to like watching movies again is because it gives an opportunity to focus on the nuances of the film. Well, everybody knows the story of Swades but this time, I saw many interpretations of the movie.

Swades begins with a quote from Gandhi. It is also no coincidence that Shah Rukh's character is named Mohan, a name that is very similar to Gandhi's first name — Mohandas. Later, in one of the scenes in the bookshop, we see that Mohan's desk has the book 'Bapu Kuti: Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi' by Rajni Bakshi. A description of the book says, "A story of twelve individuals who search for the solutions to the many problems of modern India and these activists find themselves coming to the same conclusions as had Gandhi. In this collection, Rajni Bakshi explores the world and lives of these people who have turned their backs on lucrative professions to embark on a search for practical and humane ways of political and social transformation, rooted in the faith that new India with prosperity for all can be built on the strengths of cooperation and community." In another scene, we see that a lesson on Gandhi's most famous movement of independence — Quit India Movement — is being taught to children in the school. In addition, Mohan's views and philosophy mirror some of Gandhi's own beliefs, such as the one on girl's education. At one point Mohan gives a spiel to the villagers when he sees that they have become comfortable with living in darkness and then inspires them to do something themselves. This was, in fact, an enactment of Gandhi's most famous quote — Be the change you wish to see in the world. Swades is then Mohan's journey of the rediscovery of Gandhi and India. Even the costume designer of the film is Bhanu Athaiya who got an Oscar for Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. I was also thrilled to see some of the NCERT textbooks in that book scene. And we all know that any NCERT textbook begins by something that we all have seen but maybe we have stopped noticing it — Gandhi's Talisman.
Swades also fondly talks about an old-world charm that we seem to have lost. The shop where Mohan meets Gita is called Pathfinder. He is trying to not only find the path to Charanpur but also the path to giving direction to his own life. Earlier, we saw that in spite of getting everything at his workplace, he was not really happy there. Later, when he is driving to Charanpur, he takes a turn and meets a baba. The baba says that, "Shayad tum raasta bhatak gaye ho." Mohan responds by saying, "Nahi nahi, main to bataye hue raaste pe hi ja raha tha, shayad kahin koi mod galat le liya hoga." Then, baba replies, "Mod galat nahi hote, insaan galat hote hain." What was also worth noting was that when Mohan was driving, he was listening to old songs on the radio. The first one is Khoya Khoya Chand and the second one is Akela Hun Main Is Duniya Me. Interestingly, both of these songs featured Dev Anand and have been sung by Mohammad Rafi. As soon as Mohan takes a turn, the song on the radio plays the remix version of Mera Babu Chail Chabeela Main To Nachungi as if referring to the fact that we have lost that old-school love for music and taken a wrong turn towards remixes. It is such a brilliant detail that I couldn't help get amazed. Then, the song Yun Hi Chala Chal Rahi begins that talks about walking and enjoying the beauty of this wondrous world.
Man apne ko kuch aisa halka paye, 
Jaise kandhon pe rakha bojh hat jaye
Jaise bhola sa bachpan phir se aaye, 
Jaise barson me koi Ganga nahaye.
In a later scene, we see that the villagers gather around to watch a movie. The movie is Yaadon Ki Baaraat as if Swades is Mohan's yaadon ki baaraat  a procession of his memories of his old days of the yore, of a charming world. The plot of that movie is based on brothers separated by fate. This is as if Mohan is separated from his land of birth, his swades and like the earlier scenes with the baba, he seems to have lost his way, and now that he has finally come home. It is also shown that Mohan prefers to stay in a caravan. The caravan is full of all the amenities but it is only at the charpoy that he says, "Bahut dino se itni gehri neend nahi soya" and where he does not even need a pillow to sleep. The caravan was again symbolic of his life in the US, there is everything that he needs but eventually, his life is still a caravan, something in transition, something that is temporary, and that he is a traveler, a nomad and that it is only at his home that he is at peace.
I also felt that not only Gandhi, Swades could also be called an interpretation of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The name of the village is Charanpur (Charan meaning feet) that was so named because of the presence of footprints of Ram and Sita in the village. Just like Ram came back from exile, Mohan came back to Charanpur after many years and he is welcomed by the chants of Ayo Re, Ayo Re. Kaveri Amma even does his aarti. Mohan is the idealist Ram for whom his duty comes first. For that, he will even leave Gita (like Ram leaves Seeta) to finish his work. In fact, the whole song Pal Pal Hai Bhari depicts the Ramayana where Sita is played by Gita. After that song, Mohan will kill the raavana — the darkness and the slumber of the village, and bring light to the families (literally and metaphorically). In one scene, Gita and Mohan stand with their charan (feet) in the water of the pond at the same spot where the footprints of Ram and Sita were shown like they too are Ram and Sita. Later, we see that when Mohan is back in the US, he feels something is amiss in his feet; he is missing standing there. The film ends at that same spot as Mohan and his feet have come back forever.
Ram mere man me hai, 
Ram to ghar ghar mein hai,
Ram har aangan mein hai, 
Man se Ravan jo nikale,
 Ram uske man me hai
In addition, there are other Mahabharta references too. The name Mohan means Krishna. At one point in the beginning he even says, Kaveri Amma was a Yashoda as he was the Krishna. Gita is like the idealistic person who is also a teacher, just like the sacred book Gita teaches us about the ethical and moral struggles of human life. Gita is a collection of teachings of Krishna (or Mohan). Kaveri Amma is also named after the river Kaveri that is also called the Great Mother that wanted to serve the world. More on Kaveri's mythology here. I know the following comparison is a bit absurd and too much stretching this argument but the satellite that Mohan worked on was called the Global Precipitation Management, a way to prevent floods and manage rains like Krishna did by picking Mountain Govardhana on his finger to prevent the villagers from the rain? I know it is quite absurd to stretch, but no denying other Mahabharata references. 

Any discussion of Swades is incomplete without mentioning that gut-wrenching scene of the railway platform. Mohan always drank mineral water from a bottle. Even on offering it, he did not drink the water. It is only after he visits the poor farmer's family, he realizes the debilitating poverty that the farmer was living in. When he sees a boy selling water in an earthen pot for a mere twenty-five paise, it brings a catharsis in him. It is then that he drinks and embraces the water of his motherland for the first time, and that he has finally come home, not only physically but emotionally as well. There is the transformation from a pre-packaged plastic bottle that contains treated water to an earthen pot that contains water poured from a tap-water containing kettle — the comparison could not have been more stark. There can be no dry eyes while watching that scene. It is deeply moving.
One another fascinating scene of the film is the sequence of the song Yeh Tara Woh Tara. It is such a brilliant description of the concept of national integration. That we all are stars in some way or the other, but only if we can come together and form a constellation, then we can truly shine in the sky. It is a song with terrific lyrics.

Ye Taara Woh Taara Har Taara,
Ye Sab Saath Mein Jo Hai Raat Mein,
Toh Jagmagaaya Aasmaan Saara,
Jagmag Taare, Do Taare, Lo Taare Sau Taare, 
Jagmag Saare, Har Taara Hai Sharaara
Saath Rang Kehne Ko, Phir Bhi Sang Kitne Hain
Samjho Sabse Pehele Toh, Rang Hote Akele Toh
Indranush Banta Hi Nahin

It is no coincidence that Swades showed the constellation the Big Dipper, which Mohan says is "hal" which not only means a plow but also a solution. A review (apologies for not finding the link again) made a brilliant point on this song that said that in India, we need stars to give us social messages and can there be any bigger star than Shah Rukh Khan to give us lessons on unity and national integration and in all this happens when the entire village gathers to watch a film — there can be nothing that unites us more than our love for movies.
The review actually led me to further think about Shah Rukh's role in Swades itself. I consider it to be of his career-best performances. As Swades talks about being comfortable in your own skin, it is interesting how it could be called Shah Rukh's own return (howsoever temporary) from the masala films. In that scene where Mohan says he has lost his direction, it could fit so well to Shah Rukh's career at that point. The film's larger message to embrace your Indianness could also be very well applied to our films of today. Our films have become too formulaic and more or less, it seems as if that old charm of movie-making has disappeared. As the film showed Shah Rukh watching Yaadon Ki Baaraat (not to forget the scene that involves a young Aamir Khan), perhaps he needs to come back and embrace cinema that is meaningful and satisfying. Maybe Shah Rukh needs to do more of Dev Anand's films (the songs that were playing on the radio). The scenes where Mohan is shown smoking made me feel like I am watching Shah Rukh and not Mohan, given Shah Rukh's own love for smoking. It is also worth noting that if we speak to any Shah Rukh fan about his best performance, Swades would be at the forefront. He is being accused of being playing 'Rahul' in all his films but the critical acclaim that he got for this film is a great lesson for him. I really wished the film had done commercially well too. Mohan being played by Shah Rukh was as they say art imitating life. Maybe Shah Rukh also needs to realize that apne hi paani me ghul jana barf ka muqaddar hota hai.

I do not know if I have seen any film that used an apostrophe in the word 'Productions', this is actually the correct form. Being grammatically correct in the title itself  just for that, it deserves a big clap.
Swades, We the people  inspired from the Preamble to our Constitution.
Very interesting end credits. Kiran Rao is the assistant director. Ayan Mukerji is the clapper boy. Karan Malhotra of Agneepath fame and Danish Aslam of Break Ke Baad fame are also mentioned.
At one point, Mohan is taking a bath and he is singing the song Waiting For A Girl Like You. The song is by a band called Foreigner. A song by a band called Foreigner in a film called Swades — perfect! 
In the last few weeks, I also saw Delhi-6. There are so many similarities between Swades and Delhi-6 that I was pleasantly surprised. Even the essence of two dialogues is exactly the same, yes, exactly the same. I leave that for another day. I have to write the post on Delhi-6, else I will forget everything. More on it later.

Dialogue of the day:
"Mere aansuon ka swaad mere man ka namak hi samajhta hai."
 Haridas, Swades


  1. super *whistle*

    Just love your eye for detail. Waiting for a post on Delhi 6 eagerly.

  2. this was a fantastic post, I still ask people to read your post on Luck By chance, but this was even better...


  3. What should I say! I considered myself a big of this Movie but never saw it in such a detail. Thanks a lot. It was a great detailed revisit.

  4. Makes me want to revisit Swades, Pankaj. Didn't notice so many observations you made in the post.

  5. Brilliant as always ... too much detailing . Watched this movie many times but missed many points. Will revisit a masterpiece today .. that Ramayana and mahabharat reference were best ...

  6. Brilliant as always ... too much detailing . Watched this movie many times but missed many points. Will revisit a masterpiece today .. that Ramayana and mahabharat reference were best ...

  7. awesome eye for detail

  8. The train ride scene is so well shot and such a pivotal point in the movie, that just reading about it made me teary eyed.. Makes me cry every time I watch the movie.. <3

  9. I have the movie got it from Red chillie love it, it should be shown on the big screen I would love to see it come to Australia. It is outstanding and beautiful movie, SRK was brilliant in it. It shows a lot heart and kindness and a beautiful Love story.

  10. Amazing review and excellent detailing.. this film has always been one of the very favourite ones.. )

  11. If I could have the eye for detail that you have..

  12. superb post! Truly amazing interpretation of this very fine movie. This greatly helps me in my journey to a greater understanding of India's culture through films and music.

  13. I had a smile on throughout the time i was reading this article. Loved your eye for detail and articulation. Fantastic!

  14. I loved Swades so much i actually ended up visiting Wai and Dom lake in Maharashtra (portrayed as Charanpur and the big lake Shah Rukh Khan crosses enroute to visit Haridas in the film) and I felt I missed nothing about the movie. But hats off to you Sir.


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