Indian-American Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan) is a project manager at NASA. As his team reaches the conclusion of an important assignment, months of guilt over leaving his surrogate mother, Kaveri (Kishori Balal), in India to move to the States catches up to him and he takes a leave of absence to pay her a visit. Upon arriving, Mohan learns that Kaveri has moved to a poor village to live with his childhood friend Gita (Gayatri Joshi) and her younger brother. Renting a caravan to live and travel in, he reaches the village and tries to persuade Kaveri to leave her dingy surroundings and join him in America. However, as the days pass, Mohan begins to make friends within the village and eventually develops feelings for Gita as well. Falling in love again with his homeland, but at the same time breaking his heart over the hardships his countrymen are enduring, Mohan is torn. Does he go back to his luxurious life in a foreign land or does he stay in a place that feels like home where he knows his skills can help improve the villagers' lives?
Written, produced and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker (the filmmaker who brought you 2001's Academy Award-nominated period epic Lagaan), Swades is an attempt to seriously address the problems - and possible solutions - facing India as well the desires of NRIs (non-resident Indians) to return home. All this while at the same time trying to tell a compelling story full of drama, romance, music and the other ingredients found in popular Bollywood musicals. Amazingly, it works. Gowariker has crafted a suitably simplistic, touching and thought-provoking film that lambastes jingoism, sexism and India's caste system, but steers clear of being preachy and pretentious by pointing the finger inward as well as outward.
The cast all give good performances (excluding the Western crew at NASA who seem to have trouble talking, never mind acting), particularly newcomer Gayatri Joshi who makes a confident debut, albeit lacking spark at times. It is Shah Rukh Khan, though, who steals the show from start to finish. Khan has always possessed tremendous charisma which has propelled him to Bollywood's top spot, but has never shown much range as an actor. Much like Jack Nicholson or Jackie Chan, he has essentially just played himself in various guises with the volume turned either up or down depending on the mood of the film. In Swades, however, Khan is a revelation. Gone is the superstar persona and in its place is a completely believable character with subtleties and nuances aplenty – truly a career-best performance that finally proves Shah Rukh Khan is an unquestionably talented performer.
On the technical side, Swades impresses with beautiful yet appropriately restrained cinematography. Music by A.R. Rahman (Bombay Dreams, Lagaan, Dil Se) is characteristically not immediate, but grows on you in leaps and bounds. 'Yunhi Chala Chal Rahi' ('Go On, Traveller') is a superb truck-driving anthem while 'Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera' ('This Country Of Yours') is pure, dreamy bliss. The songs are integrated well in the film with no massive dance numbers or frenetic, MTV-style editing.
The movie has achieved a respectable amount of success overseas, but sadly hasn't managed to find the intended large audience in India where the majority are still enjoying the inferior, but far more commercial Veer-Zaara. As such, Swades fails in its attempt to spread its message as far and wide as possible, but definitely succeeds in being one of the best Indian arthouse/mainstream hybrid films ever made.
UTV have done a decent job with the transfer, although it has its share of problems as is inevitable with Bollywood discs. Colour, contrast, brightness and darkness levels are all wonderfully rendered and image steadiness is fine, however a small amount of dirt and speckles crop up from time to time and there is a lot of edge enhancement going on. The original cinemascope aspect ratio of the film has been maintained and anamorphically enhanced at 2.4:1, but rounding off the disc's flaws is the video itself, which is an interlaced PAL-to-NTSC conversion. Despite its many negatives, Swades is still actually one of the better looking Hindi DVDs recently released.
A.R. Rahman's glorious music sounds terrific on the featured Hindi Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The audio is crystal clear with no pops or crackles to be heard and all speakers are made good use of. Strangely though, the songs don't sound as atmospheric as the score itself.
Subtitles for the film are provided in English, Arabic, Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, Malay and French, but none are offered on the extras disc rendering it fairly useless for non-Hindi speakers. The English subtitles are accurate as far as meaning goes, but the translator clearly felt the need to take some creative liberties at times as some lines have been altered for no reason. The songs themselves are an utter calamity. Someone has had the bright idea to transliterate the lyrics in a Shakespearean manner. This works well enough for the traditional number 'Pal Pal Hai Bhaari' ('Every Moment is a Burden'), but for pop songs such as 'Yunhi Chala Chal Rahi' (where "Why's my heart restless?" is translated as "Why doth my heart impatient be?"), it is simply ridiculous. There's a fair amount of English dialogue in the film which has been unnecessarily subtitled as well.
On the second DVD, there are a variety of extras featured. Seven deleted scenes in anamorphic widescreen (including the edited song 'Ahista, Ahista' ('Slowly, Slowly')), audition clips, a photo gallery, the original theatrical trailer and several short text documents on the making of the film, the cast and those awful English lyrics again. Five minutes worth of bloopers are also included - a bizarre addition considering the tone of the movie. The clips simply show the actors fluffing their lines in a not-exactly-hilarious style.
Lack of commercial success aside, Swades is an excellent film that has been given an imperfect, but enjoyable presentation on DVD and deserves to be seen by anyone looking for some quality cinema, particularly those put off by the usual 'fluff' Bollywood musicals.
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Last updated: 29/04/2018 00:19:06