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Swades

IT IS an idealistic film and, the way the narration unfolds, is not in the populist genre. Which is probably why it is not the kind that will go down well with audiences fed on the likes of "Veer Zaara," "Dil Wale Dulhaniya" and "Kabhi Kushi... "

There are no obvious sequences of conflict, no shouting, loud dramatisation of situations and no bold love scenes to catch the fancy of viewers, especially the youngsters.

Neither is it filled with dialogue that will make the junta clap in enthusiasm. Besides, it is not particularly a unique story either — of a successful NRI who comes back to his roots — something many have taken up in myriad ways and with varying successes.

Yet, "Swades" is beautiful. Not instantly obvious, but in the many subtle ways that give the entire film its sense of poignancy. Yes it is long, on many occasions very verbose and with a feel and tempo of a well-made documentary on the problems of a backward nation. And yes there is the mandatory love story binding two people from differing worlds towards a common goal but not before they overcome their initial differences! Nothing that has not been seen earlier.

But "Swades" is unique. Just as "Laagan" was. And it is unfair to compare the two simply because "Laagan" had plenty of dramatic elements, while this one relies entirely on the feelings of a man and his discovery of the country of his origin. Just how dramatic can that be? And just how differently can a director make it? Yet when sensitive, honest minds blend and merge, the film gets on a different footing altogether.

Encapsulated best through the characterisation of the protagonist, Mohan Bhargava, a NASA scientist working in the US who comes down to the village of Charanpur in search of his foster mother, Kaveriamma (Kishori Ballal). And how this experience changes his perceptions about India and his own goals in life.

Take the music. This has to be one of A. R. Rahman's most poignant works. The way the background score and the songs have been realised and put to visuals they need to be appreciated at different levels — melody, use of musical instruments and brevity of pieces that highlight and fade just in time for the emotion to fleetingly touch and move on.

Even as the first song "Yunhi Chala" moves from philosophical undertones to its ordinary usage of words, the blending of a western instrument with the completely native one highlights in a subtle way the entry of a man coming from a western world into the interiors of a rural area; just as the "Yeh Tara Woh Tara" number effectively catches with sensitivity the mood of a crowd living with constant power shortage!

Each song in itself has lyrics (Javed Akhtar) where simple words are strung together lucidly and with an ease sometimes transcending the melody. There is poetry, despite its overt commonplace usage.

As for Ashutosh Gowrikar there is honesty in his vision that comes from the heart and not with an eye on commercial success.

Though the portions shot in space stations don't seem entirely convincing with the chief, John, being most uncomfortable before the camera, he makes Mohan a very likable character.

Not in the flamboyant, heroic way, but in the inherently simple manner that allows him to patiently relate to an assorted bunch of villagers in rustic India.

Shah Rukh Khan becomes Mohan as his passage to India progresses. He does not indulge in excess at any point but remains the earnest character the director has essayed for him.

Gayathri Joshi is new and is being introduced as Gita, the fiery and idealistic teacher who makes Charanpur her home. Gauche in the emotional scenes, she ends up doing a decent job overall.

Though one does wonder why the director did not de-glamorise her enough. Or how one man is able to generate electricity?

"Swades" needs mental preparation to view it in the context and length it has been made. If you don't look for those finer aspects of honesty and realism, you cannot enjoy it!

CHITRA MAHESH

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