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Some Ramblings - Swades
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

A fresh arrival off the boat from South Africa, Gandhiji receives a warm welcome from Indian National Congress and would be whisked off to a formal tea party arranged by some Indians of the elite class, who consider themselves as patrons of Indian causes. Gandhiji happens to meet Sri Gopal Krishna Gokhale during the meeting, who advises Gandhiji to travel the length of the breadth of the nation and know the real country, the real people, the real problems, and the real issues before diving off the board into mainstream politics. And then it starts... the montage... Surrounded by people of different colors, compositions, creeds and castes, Gandhiji starts traveling in a third class compartment, sharing the space, time and thoughts of the people, whom he chooses to spend the rest of his life bettering their prospects. With "desh" raagam lilting on the strings of the sitar (played by Pandit Ravi Shankar), and through the collective lenses of Ronnie Taylor and Billy Williams, Sir Richard Attenborough lets us to glance into Gandhiji's psyche, trying to portray the events and the images that shaped Gandhiji's intentions and thus the country's destiny. In one such trips, he happens to meet an aged, bearded and scrawny, poor cotton farmer who recounts his troubles and resigns to his fate, unable to meet the demands of his landlord, unable to repay his loans to his creditors following the onslaught of foreign imports and the systematic crippling of the local textile industry. Gandhiji listens to what the farmer has to say intently and one can clearly see (in the excellent potrayal of Ben Kingsley) that he has already made up his mind, deciding his further course of action evident from his locked jaw and frowned brow. The montage and the short scene afterward thus sets into motion and jump starts the (movie's) national struggle of freedom as was depicted in "Gandhi".

For the movie "Mausam", Gulzar pens an excellent lyric, for a man who misses the innocence and the simplicity of the life back in the good old days of nothingness (not emptiness) and yearns to find the roots of those simple pleasures and simple wishes.

yaa garamiyOn kee raat jo puravaaIyaan chalen
ThanDii safed chaadaron pe jaagen der tak
taarOn kO dekhtae rahen chhat par paDe hue
dil DhooNDhataa hai phir vahee phursat ke raat din...

Lying on a cot with white bed-spread, looking at the star-studded sky above on a warmth filled night, carried away in a gentle breeze of the light wind, lost in the thoughts of unknown, the heart yearns (or even, craves) for those days and nights of pleasant leisure times. The combination of what was past with the alienation to what lies ahead evokes a feeling of fascination towards what was left behind that erases everything unpleasant about it and often portrays it in warm and sometimes glorious light. Couple this feeling of nostalgia to the sense of alienation in the foreign land and one might catch a glimpse of what goes through every non-resident Indian's (or according to Ashutosh Gowariker, the writer-director, a non-returning Indian) mind. Illiteracy, corruption, bureaucracy, red-tape, over-population, under-development, lack of infrastructure, and loads of apathy stack up nicely in one pan. The fresh smell of the soil after the first shower, the hazy sunset on a hot day in the summer, the over-flowing water all around on a rainy day, the sense of belonging and even greater sense of longing, balance out the above overwhelming factors in the other pan. With these forces propelling the actions of the lead character, Swades is an observation of the change in the mind of an NRI visting his country, starting off being distant, clinical and brutal, finding himself completely absorbed, passionate, involved and emotional as time progresses.

Instant results, magic wands, too good to be true situations and too convenient for the plot aids do not come in handy for the character. Though the script set ups the situations for the hero to rise above the situation (demonstrating the typical Hindi hero trait of super human strength and spirit), take charge of it and deliver astounding results at alarming rates, Swades ambles along taking its own time in real life-like timeline. The pace of movie is deliberately slow and languid, devoid of adrenaline pumping and chest thumping scenarios. Gowariker's control of the script and clarity of the material are quite evident in the scenes involving the transformation of the lead character from a distant observer to a totally committed person, the romantic situations and the specially the concluding sequences. At each of these important points, conventional Bollywood wisdom calls for cymbals in the background playing out for hair-raising situations portraying the greatness of the hero's sacrifice and the largeness of his heart. In exactly such specific moments, Gowariker steers clear of such crowning ceremonies and instead goes for simplicity and down to earth achievements that speak for themselves, than rely on the third party commentaries (in the form of extraneous characters extolling the virtues of the hero for the audience's convenience) or background songs with rich flourishes.

Restraint seems to be the key feature of Gowariker's script and direction as he exercises it in plenty. It is quite easy to fall into the trap of spinning yarns around larger than life characters performing out of the world miracles, coming after an acclaimed movie that won national and international laurels. Gowariker deliberately seems to side-step this obvious trap coming out unscathed with Swades.

Like the strings of the sitar that shapes the actions of (movie) Gandhi, it is the turn of shehnai, this time, to infuse the sense of responsibility and belonging, and with A.R.Rahman weilding the baton, the result turns out to be earthy, rustic, rich and immensely satisfying all at the same time. During the background score of when the lead character makes a trip to a village and his mind and heart changes for good, Rahman beautifully synchronizes between the racing of the train to the racing of the heart and fast beats, the pathos of the finding a little kid trying to earn some spare change selling water, the emotions swelling inside of the lead character. Each of the songs have been carved out (the word composed does not do enough justice to the effort that went into them. A more detailed description of the music of the movie can be found at this link) keeping in mind the mood the lead character, from a peppy and a bubbly "yu hee chalaa chal rahee" to a awakening call of "yeh jo desh hai teraa", from a soft crooning of "saawariyaa saawariyaa" to a soft whisper of "Dekho naa", from an inspirational "Yeh taara who taara" to a devotional "pal pal hai bhaari". Javed Akhtar fills in the sounds of earthiness with words of simplicity, quite in tune with the well-grounded plot. The rhymes of "taara, dhaara, yaara, saaraa" completing the four stanzas of "yeh taara" each signifying the strength of unity and the beauty in diversity in their own way stands out from the rest of the lyrics. The rest of the technical crew aiding the script, than over-powering it, Swades is an exhibition of script-driven movie making, even in this day of technical brilliance outshining the important part of the movie - the plot.

Push-pin all the sweet memories into the walls of cubicles looming all around, walk around in designer clothes, move around in costly cars, spend the life in exquisitely designed homes with carefully crafted interiors, and one call from the Swades far away that was left far behind, the cubicles, the cars, the wear and the homes, all of a sudden, seem no match for those days and nights of pleasant leisure times.

More Ramblings on films
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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