Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Swades


[Pic Courtesy Swades Official Site]

Saw Swades over the weekend. The movie is an example of a well-intentioned but not particularly entertaining movie. The hype on this one was huge since it was from Ashutosh Gowariker, the director of Lagaan and starred Shah Rukh Khan, Hindi cinema's superstar who was having an amazing box-office run prior to this. But it tanked at the box-office, earning flop status within a week of release.

To me, Swades seemed like a glossier, more polished version of our own Kamal's Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi without its best parts (the intercaste romance and the father-son conflict). The story is about Mohan Bhargava(Shah Rukh Khan), an engineer at NASA, returning to India looking for his childhood nanny. The search takes him to Charanpur(a fictional village) and the plight of the village makes him set out to improve the life of its people.

The plot is wafer-thin and the movie is quite slow. This makes it more realistic but at the same time, it also seems simplistic and overly optimistic. I couldn't believe that Shah Rukh could, with only the villagers' help, build a complex system to generate electricity and that the villagers, rooted in years of tradition, would give up their beliefs and practices so easily. On the positive side, Ashutosh's heart is in the right place and he succeeds in bringing the difficult lives of the villagers before our eyes. Many of the characters, like the postmaster/wrestler and the man with the dream of starting a dhaba along America's highways, are likeable. Shah Rukh gives a sincere performance with the actor shining through more than the star and heroine Gayatri Joshi is easy on the eyes too. ARR delivers a soundtrack with emphasis on melody. One song is the same tune as the Baba Kichu Kichu Thaa number from Baba. The final song has great lyrics about an Indian's unbreakable link to his motherland.

12 Comments:

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Vic said...

Hey bj,

I am in complete agreement with you abt ‘swades’, it was 20 mins worth of plot stretched to 3+ hrs.. not to mention extremely predictable. The acting was also strictly average. I am not a fan of gowariker’s ‘lagaan’ either, but this was a major step down. Incidentally, I saw ashutosh in ’01 at the Toronto International film fest, I was planning on going up to him or something but after sitting through the 4 hrs of torture which was ‘lagaan’, I angrily just mowed along. Anyways, ‘swades’ is definitely one of the worst hindi philums of ’04, though there were many really great ones as well -‘maqbool’, ‘ab tak 56’, ‘chameli’, ‘naach’, ‘ek hasina thi’(‘mahanadhi’ remake)…

…seen any of them? ..if so it would be cool to hear what you think abt them

btw, glad to see you are finally putting up your thoughts on hindi philums

 
At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balaji, Glad you mentioned the father-son conflicts as one of the highlights of "Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi." It is an apt comparison which made me conclude that the reason why "UMT" worked (more than Swades, that is) is because of the intimate character portraits more than the efforts taken to deliver a message...something that Gowariker emphasized and re-emphasized all thro Swades...Ram

 
At 8:29 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

Vic, I thot 'Swades' was slow but I don't think I hated it as much as you seemed to have. Atleast, its intentions were good. I definitely liked 'Lagaan'. I thot it was very clever filmmaking and maintained a good pace inspite of the looooong running time.

The only one I've seen among the movies you mention is 'Ek Hasina Thi'. Thats the one with Saif Ali Khan and Urmila, right? Isnt that a remake of 'Double Jeopardy' rather than 'Mahanadhi'?

 
At 8:31 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

Ram, I think you hit the nail on the head. 'Swades' lacked strong, distinctive character portraits and memorable interactions between them. The presence of those might have made it a movie rather than a documentary!

 
At 12:04 PM, Anonymous vic said...

yup thats the one

from what I saw(and I have seen the film abt 5 or 6 times), there was very little taken form ‘double jeopardy’, that is besides the basic theme of a guy scamming his lover. I saw much more taken from ‘mahanadhi’ however, just switch kamal w/ urmi and take away the part abt having kids. Nonetheless there was plenty of original content added in….

how abt we call it - a loose remake of ‘mahanadhi’ with a twist of ‘double jeopardy’ - sound good?
thought it was great film nonetheless

btw, on the topic of ramu films, I was wondering if you have seen ramu’s ‘mast’, the reason I ask is I was wondering how much of ‘maayaavi’ is taken from ‘mast’?

..or is it just another rumor

as for ‘lagaan’ it just didn’t work for me, but I guess different strokes..

though I definitely don’t think it deserved an oscar nom, do you? though I can’t say I am surprised the oscars guys liked it, it was one of those epic-like pictures, with a story seemingly taken straight out of a good ol’ american western

the only difference being that instead of fighting it out with the bad guys, like yul in sturges’s ‘mag 7’ or even like shimura in kurosawa’s ‘7 sam’, they played it out over a game of cricket.. though that is about as far as gowariker’s creativity extended

 
At 9:47 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

No, havent seen Ram's Mast. Heard it was about a young guy obsessed with an actress. The main characters seem to be the same Mayavi but can't comment until I see both I guess. But Mayavi is supposed to be a comedy while I don't think Mast fell in the same genre.

Yeah Lagaan got raving reviews everywhere. Ebert gave it 3 1/2 stars. I definitely enjoyed it and admired the filmmaker's cleverness in bringing together 3 of our favorite topics - cricket, patriotism and romance. With rekhs also asking about Lagaan, looks like a new post on the movie will be quite well-read...

 
At 12:11 PM, Anonymous vic said...

ya, ramu’s ‘mast’ is a comedy/romance.. though much more of a comedy. It is really good, though not the best in his ‘philum-industry’ series-‘main madhuri dixit..’, ‘naach’, ‘mast’ & ‘rangeela’

and abt ‘lagaan’, though I tend to agree with most of ebert’s stuff, he seems to be a bit off when it comes to Indian films

of course he put ray’s trilogy and ‘music room’ in his top 100 films, and he gave ‘monsoon wedding’ 3 1/2*

both of these were expected

but some of his other stuff…

he gave mehta’s ‘fire’ and ‘earth’ 3*, I thought both of these were excellent films and deserved 3 1/2*, esp considering some of the other films he gave 3 1/2* to…

he gave sivan’s ‘terrorist’ 3 1/2*, I am not sure what he saw in this film, I thought it was strictly average, maybe a 2* film at most

the worst however, was giving nair’s ‘kama sutra’ 2*, though not a great film, it was good and definitely deserving of a 3*

anyways, at least he gave nair’s ‘salaam bombay’ a perfect 4*, it was well deserved, the film is a fucking masterpiece(excuse my malayalam), it should have won the oscar that year

 
At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Asokan said...

Ah well, to me LAGAAN was a Bollywood masterpiece, simply the greatest Bollywood movie I've ever seen, simply because it not only held my attention, but engrossed me for the whole duration of four hours. Hell, I even rewatched it a couple of times and it's still captivating.

SWADES though is quite another sort of beast: much more restrained, but also with some unnecessary slow spots, especially in the last third. Still, it boasted Sharukh Khan's best performance today, if only because he didn't overact too much, while the rest of the cast was colourful, but not as impressive as the marvellous cast of LAGAAN.

SWADES is in effect a thematic continuation of that film's theme of Indian identity, only not told as a fairytale, but as a more or less realistic drama with at least one great scene: when our hero dances with the children under the sky, which recalled that brilliant "Mitwa" number from LAGAAN.

SWADES is interesting as a minor work of a great director, but not as a film in its own right. I guess that's its greatest shortcoming.

 
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