Chasing great Indian dream, 'Swades' mesmerises
By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
Film: "Swades"; Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi, Kishori Ballal; Screenplay and direction by Ashutosh Gowariker.
Somewhere in a village in northern India, a train brings the troubled protagonist Mohan Bhargava chugging to a halt at a godforsaken station. A little boy runs along screaming, "Water for 25 paise."
Mohan, who has never touched anything but mineral water in India, buys the water...probably contaminated but still water that belongs to his soil, his country....
The life-defining moment in Ashutosh Gowariker's eagerly awaited follow-up to "Lagaan" is so sincerely sublime and so intricately poignant that it brings to mind some of the most tragic interludes on the vicissitudes of Indian poverty, as seen in Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali" and Bimal Roy's "Do Bigha Zameen".
"Swades" is a unique experiment with grassroots realism. It is so politically correct in its propagandist message that initially you wonder if the government of India funded the director's dream.
But, no, this neo-classic, conceived and designed as the great Indian journey into the heart and soul of poverty, is funded entirely by Gowariker's idealism.
It's a work that's as simple, lucid and lyrical as a tune sung in repose by that minstrel who sings not because he must but because he knows no other thing.
There's an enchanting intimacy to "Swades" that invites you in without trying. The plot is so obvious that you wonder why an ambitious, commercial behemoth like Gowariker would want to make a film about a young, highly successful Indian expatriate's rediscovery of his roots!
Once the director sets off on this journey of self-discovery with his protagonist, he doesn't flinch from the sheer transparency of his familiar yet fascinating tale. Often in this long and finally deeply fulfilling voyage you wonder what could possibly have prompted the director to make a film that doesn't pull any punches, resorts to no gimmicks and chooses to stay supine at a time when cinema has become hysterically over the top.
As Mohan takes a homesick journey from his cushy job in NASA in the US to a village near Delhi to meet up with his foster-mother (Kishori Ballal), we often finds him in situations that could eminently qualify as clichés on patriotism.
But "Swades" avoids being a 3-hour-15-minute long flag of nationalism.
There're hardly any hysterical highs (not counting the grand moment when Mohan unleashes water-generated electricity) or looming lows in the storytelling.
The format adopted by Gowariker is akin to a TV soap. Life flows effortlessly and fluently along with the multitude of characters creating an elaborate drama conveying the opposite of the two other notable NRI-returned-home films "Pardes" and "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead.
If the other two films were giddy, glamorous celebrations of patriotism, "Swades" is far more austere and comprehensive in its view of India's acute need to recognise its weaknesses and strengths and act accordingly...and urgently.
Parts of the film are patently polemical. Gowariker stops the narration to let Mohan lecture the characters on why we as a country haven't been able to provide food and education at the grassroots level. The passionate dialogues by K.P. Saxena ring true even when their righteousness threatens to pitch the words from the pulpit.
Gowariker isn't scared of his idealism getting the better of his cinematic impulses. It doesn't adopt any of the technical methodologies that a multimillion epic must necessarily adopt in order to spin a marketable web of eyeball-arresting images.
"Swades" is, in fact, rather casually shot in parts. The sections at NASA are particularly lacklustre, and one wonders how far cinematographer Mahesh Aney is to blame for this. The grace of Mohan's journey back home is obtained in the way the character responds to the socio-political stimuli provided by the great Indian nightmare - as opposed to the great American dream.
There's a long passage where Mohan journeys to a wretched village to meet an impoverished family. The whole sequence where the head of the family narrates his woes to Mohan even while being hospitable to him is so idealistic, your heart reaches out not only to the characters but also to Gowariker for making a film so stripped of cynicism.
The romantic liaison between Mohan and the spirited feminist Geeta is given a shaded treatment, never overpowering the larger more dominant themes in the script. Debutante Gayatri Joshi, though a tad too glamorous to be the new age Jaya Bhaduri is one of the many refreshingly underexposed actors in the film who add to its alluring authenticity.
But it's Shah Rukh who dominates the proceedings. Standing at the centre of what's unarguably the most 'un-cynical' film of our times he strips away the glamorous veneer of his recent characters to play a guy who's completely credible.
Never before has he conveyed so much pain through his eyes. To say he feels for his character is an understatement. To say that the film allows him to finally come into his own as an actor is more like it.
Indo-Asian News Service
Director: Yash Chopra
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee
Music: Madan Mohan, re-created by Sanjeev Kohli
Conflict, flashback, twist and romance are the important elements to present a perfect epic drama as a film and when the undisputed king of Bollywood melodrama Yash Chopra returns to the floor for direction after seven long years then.
'Veer Zaara' is expectedly a good presentation. Director Yash Chopra has perfectly implemented the basic elements of a remarkable melodrama to give an emotional love story to the audience in this festive season of Diwali.
This emotional love story is not only a serious entertainer but also one which contains a message for the public. Based on the love story of an Indian Air Force Squadron Leader and a Pakistani girl, this film gives a message to strengthen the bond of love between India and Pakistan.
The story begins with the sorrowful life of Sqdrn. Leader Veer Pratap Singh (Sahrukh Khan) who is in imprisonment in the central Jail of Lahore for the last 22 years.
Everybody has forgotten his real name and calls him by the name of 'Kaidi No 786'. One day a Pakistani lawyer Samiya Sidiqui who is a councilor with the National Human Rights Commission reaches the jail to take up the case of Veer Pratap Singh.
Veer Pratap, who has not opened his mouth for the last 20 years, talks to her tracing his past existence. Zaara Hayad Khan (Preity Zinta) is a smart daughter of a strong politician of Pakistan Jahangir Hayat Khan.
One day Zaara comes out of home on a journey to India without informing anybody to fulfill her grandmother's last wish. She had promised her grand mother that her last rites would be completed in India in a place of Sikh Pilgrimage called 'Tirthpur'.
On way to India, Preity meets with a bus accident and Veer rescues her as a part of his duty. After that, Veer accompanies the lonely Pakistani girl Zaara to complete the last rites of her grand mother and soon they become good friends.
Now Veer brings her to his village to introduce her to his parents Choudhury Sumer Pratap Singh (Amitabh Bachchan) and his wife. Here Choudhury Sumer Pratap Singh is impressed with Zaara as she proposes to open a school for the girls in the village.
Before leaving the village Choudhury asks his son Veer to propose to Zaara. At the railway station, jusst when Veer is about to propose to Zaara, her would-be husband Raza Sirazi (Manoj Bajpai) appears on the scene.
Soon Zaara returns to Pakistan and Veer returns to duty with the memory of Zaara. Zaara's liking turns to love for Veer and just before her Nikah (negotiation) with Raza she discloses her love for Veer.
Veer also reaches Pakistan but their union remains a dream. Everybody knows that the political career of Jahangir Hayat Khan (Boman Irani) depends on the marriage of Zaara and Raza.
He is not ready to accept the marriage of Veer and Zaara. Beacause of Jahangir Khan's reputation Veer and Zaara sacrifice their love and Zaara agrees to her Nikah with Raza. The plot proceeds with Pakistani police arresting Veer on allegations that he is Rajesh Rathode and works for RAW as an intelligence agent.
Obviously, Raza Siraji plays the crooked role in this. Veer is not ready to reveal the truth in order to save the dignity of Hayat Khan's family.
At the same time, the bus in which Veer was supposed to leave for India meets with an accident on the way and all the passengers meet with death. Looking at the passenger list, everyone thinks that Veer Pratap Singh is dead.
But when Zaara hears about Veer's death, she breaks Nikah with Raza and flies to Veer's native village to fulfil the dream of Choudhury Sumer Singh. When the case reopens, Samiya Sidiqui is not able to arrange any strong proof to identify Veer.
So she moves to India to find a person who can identify Veer Pratap Singh and finally she meets Zaara. It is only then that she is able to convince the judge that kaidi no 786 is the Ex- Indian Airforce Officer Veer Pratap Singh and wins against public prosecutor Zakir Ahmed (Anupam Kher).
'VeerZaara' is an emotion packed love story. The King of romantic melody King Khan Sahrukh along with Preity Zinta breathes life into the lead roles. For the first time Rani Mukherjee's appearance in a strong role of a lawyer is satisfactory but fails to meet the expectations against Anupam Kher in a long courtroom scene.
Contrary to his image of a comedian, Boman Irani for the first time appears as a serious father who is more concerned about his reputation. Manoj Bajpai, Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini leave a fiar impression on the audience despite their short appearances.
Kiran Kher's role as a serious responsible mother after 'Devdaas' is impressive and lively. The narration of his life story by Veer Pratap Singh himself makes the film more attractive. Frequent flashbacks and twists keep up the interest of the audience in the film. All the songs move with the script and lead the story forward. Packed with some Punjabi cultural events and messages for a better relationship, love among the Indians and Pakistanis, 'Veer Zaara' is a perfect presentation from the Chopra camp for this Diwali.