Thursday, February 22, 2007

research question #3

From my friend Michael (aka "Dr. Marcus" from the trip to India), anthropologist, teacher, and very insightful Bollywood-watcher, whom you may remember from reserach question 1, back in September:

I am relatively new to Indian films (have seen fewer to 20, maybe; more info in member profile) and also, new to Jaman (thanks to Beth Watkins with whom I traveled throughout India summer '06) For the past two months or so I have been obsessed with Swades. I have only seen this film once in its entirety via Netflix, but the visuals remain in my head vividly. The music is also wonderful, I think it is restrained compared to other "Bollywood" products. Do people agree? I would like to raise a few ideas or questions about it, and hoepfully some in the group will reply. First, I have to say that this is SRK's best that I have seen (including Dil Se, DDLJ, Paheli --- I have only seen some clips of song and dance from many of his other movies). Perhaps because the telling of Mohan's story is so steady and slow and sure, and the actor really effaces himself. Do people agree? You really feel his pain (sorry to use the phrase) in the train station scene. I have seen the same dire ctor's Lagaan and I have to say that imho Swades is far superior. Do people agree? I am also interested in the questions that the film raises about diaspora identity and womanhood; the conflation of family and nation/mother and the portrait of this most highly successful NRI finding his true self in village India with a teacher who makes sacrifices of her own for the sake of the greater good. OK, so the narrative resolves any issues of transnational identity in too pat a way, and the whole problematic of the teacher's rage (too strong a word, because the actress conveys it beautifully through silence and body language) against the status quo and implicitly against casteism. Do people agree that these are indeed themes of the film? Do we presume that she and SRK will have a "modern" marriage, and this is what an NRI and upper middle class Indian audience sees? I am wondering. I know that many NRI's are returning to India, and in some ways Swades is an appeal (in more ways than one). Does this film appeal more to diaspora than to people in India for this reason? Is the rural life too romanticised and false nostalgic? I am thinking not. I think that whole scene in which SRK sings and dances with the children argues against that. The film is saying: "do what you can." Do people agree? Lots of questions, I should stop babbling. The more I think and ponder about this film the more magnificent I think it is. I remember at first thinking the hitchiking holy man singing was a bit silly, now I can't get over it. It is a great song! Am I crazy? I am very interested in hearing people's opinions...thanks! Michael
Please post in the comments, or if you'd rather be more private, email me and I will happily forward them on to him. Thank you!

14 comments:

Indianoguy said...

WOW.. Well written

I think Swades had a profound impact on lot of NRI's.. for me it touched wide range of issues from poverty to casteism to patriotism. My favourite scene is when SRK says "I don't believe India is the greatest country in the world"
I think rural life is a bit sugar coated without any violence/fights between villagers. But again most villages I've been are peaceful, may be the film maker wanted the story to be set in one such peaceful village.

Suja, GaramChai.com said...

Your post is interesting because even Non Resident Indians (American Indians) are intrigued by 'Bollywood'

Check out NRI Bollywood

Daddy's Girl said...

Interesting comments - I agree that this is definitely one of SRK's best performances - he is always better when he reins himself in a bit. I also agree that the village was not unduly romanticised.
And the lead actress did a great job of, as you say, expressing anger silently. I did find the film rather preachy though. I thought the message of the film was a bit over-emphasized and could've been more subtle. Between 'Swades' and 'Lagaan'? I think I'd have to watch both again to really decide, but at this point I'd probably say 'Swades'. That could just be my SRK-love speaking though. Oh and I definitely agree: the music is beautiful in its restraint.

Anonymous said...

I and all my friends, I saw swades with, loved the movie. Most admitted it was better than Lagan - but we were students studying in Canada when we saw it. Personally I can give a number of reasons why Swades is better than Lagan. Swades is without doubt SRK's best performance, is it his best movie too? Ummmm, personally I do not think SRK has done any movie better than Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, but I'd rather not digress. Some NRI's actually thought Swades was preachy. I think, Swades was loved by a huge number of people, but inspite of all that it has not won much critical acclaim. So I assume that at least in India, the movie is not respected as much as Lagan or Rand De Basanti. Rang De Basanti is about disoriented youth killing a politician and a father. Cinema is a reflection of society. I think Urban India is more obsessed with problem of corruption and does not care about the grass root. Gandhiji always believed that India lived in its villages and that is where most attention should be focused. Living in cities we never realize that villages exist, most people with access to phones, news, Internet - most people with a voice - live in cities. People either do not have a village to associate themselves with, or do not want to get associated with one. Sad though it may seem, Swades will fade out of Indian memory soon, because Indians see movies to be entertained and Swades is no an entertainer.

Wonderful movie, but who cares?!!

Michael said...

thanks all for your comments, I have learned something from each of you. Michael

Anonymous said...

Hello Michael

Here is my reponse to your queries - I am a NRI (Non Resident Indian living overseas for the last 18 yrs.

Yes music by AR Rehman is wonderful in Swades. The song by the hitchhiking holy man is not only a good tune but also the words (lyrics) are full of meaning. My favourite is the title song "Yeh Jo desh hai mera".

Yes indeed it is SRK's best performance. He plays "himself" in the movie ie urban middle class educated professional ie what he was before he became a mega star.

Yes the train scene was really touching esp his realisation of how bad things are in the rural areas

I liked both Swades and Lagaan. The director has done a good job in both movies. Swades, however, suffers from bad editing. The movie is too long.

The portrait of a successful NRI finding his true self in a village in india was a bit idealistic.

A dedicated teacher making sacrifices for the sake of good is quite common in Indian society.

blind faith, casteism etc were all were very well portrayed. An imp thing was the way Mohan is able to rouse the people to do something for themselves instead of resigning themselves to their fate ie the constant failure and interruption of electricity

The concept of a "modern marriage" is still an idealistic thread. Perhaps the film maker was trying to make a point and bring about a change in mind set.

The beautiful actress has done a very good job for a first movie

yes the film appeals more to the Indians living overseas rather than within India. With the opening up of the economy since early 1990s and the enormous opportunities in the cities, increasing rural to urban migration, people within India are not prone towards rural life or the plight of villages as such. They are more concerned about issues like corruption, general decay in the cities etc

No rural life has not been romanticised.

Yes the film is definitely saying "do what u can". I liked the scene where the heroine asks Mohan "what have you done for your country"? Instead of criticising that India will never change for the better, have you tried doing something good? This question applies to all Indians - urban or those living overseas who constantly criticise the state of things in India

To sign off, you are not crazy - a lof ot people agree with you about "Swades"

cheers

Michael said...

Thanks again, Anonymous. I agree with you about the title song. I think I am hearing the word "Bandh" originally Sanskrit for "bond", i.e. origin of the English word. Ties. Threads. Cloth. As Beth indicated, I am noticing (in the films) what people are wearing. And I am currently writing on the topic. I would appreciate it if you understand the language can confirm for me that, indeed, the word "bandh" is what I am hearing repeated in the background. It is not reproduced in the lyrics that are posted online. --- Michael

an said...

The word in Hindi for bond is Bandhan. I doubt the word "bandh" is repeating in the background because "bandh" alone, in present day hindi, means "close".

btw from rediff: Ashutosh Gowariker got the idea for the film from a column Dilip did for rediff.com about two young engineers from Kerala who built a dam in rural Maharashtra and supplied electricity where there was none.(I remember reading that swades had a real NRI as its inspiration, but this is what I found)

an said...

http://technovators.mit.edu/Winners2003/Anil_Madhu.html

an said...

This is the orignal rediff article that inspired him -

http://www.rediff.com/news/2000/aug/31dilip.htm

(The light bulb scene comes from here I think)

Michael said...

"Bandh" meaning "close" as in "close ties," or "close the door?" Thanks again to all! I wonder how much Beth is going to put up with this on her bandwidth...

an said...

"close the door", sorry shud have been more specific :)

Michael said...

Just one more! So what do you (and anyone else possibly) think is being said in the background? It doesn't really matter that much, and I have been saved from making an egregious error. The writing is still in draft and it was an idea that seemed right (of course, this can only be true for someone who doesn't speak Hindi!) So it's just a coincidence that the song is all about preserving a "bond" with the homeland? Thanks for the links, I will read the articles.

Anonymous said...

Hello Michael

Following up on my earlier post by respoding to ur query.

The word bandhan in the title song means "bond" in the sense of "relationship" .

The line in the song is "Yeh jo bhandan hai jo kabhi tuth nahin sakta" that is a bond with the motherland that can never be broken.

Hope this helps