We love films for various reasons. There are those rare films that seem flawless, every bit crafted to almost impossible perfection. Then there are those even rarer films- with jagged edges and ‘flaws’ that make them so alive and human, they become a part of you.
Swades, for me, is just that kind of film. Its sheer lack of guile- perceived by many as a problem- actually pulls me closer to it; its innate naivety almost seems like a natural companion to the film’s innocent, idealistic spirit. It is this spirit- one that has nearly disappeared from the movies- that Swades gloriously celebrates- and which makes even the ‘imperfections’ in its cinematic artifice a part of its immense beauty. Replete with layers and themes that are conveyed through striking imagery and symbolism across its enchantingly languorous narrative, Swades wonderfully blends mythic and fantastical elements within a realistic narrative form.
The most dominant symbol used throughout Swades is that of water- and it is indeed an interesting, though perhaps insignificant coincidence that Ashutosh Gowariker happens to be an Aquarian. The preciousness of human life- both denoted by and dependent on water- is something that Swades repeatedly stresses on, and this is evident in the very first sequence of the film that takes place at NASA, which epitomizes the acme of technological and scientific development and stands in sharp contrast to the electricity deprived villages in the heartland of India. After Mohan Bhargava (Shahrukh Khan in arguably, his finest performance) concludes his presentation on the Global Precipitation Measurement Satellite Project that he is handling, a member of the audience asks him whether the massive budget for the project is really justified. To this, Mohan replies:
“Globally, there is a danger of water recession in the near future…It will not be unreal to imagine that in the 21st century, cities like Beijing, New Delhi, Santiago… and many others will use up their surrounding water and perish. Water is going to be rare. Is this not reason enough to justify any budget?”
The divisive ancient caste system- one of the main issues that the film addresses- prohibits the sharing of water by people of different castes. Water in Swades is the very elixir of life; the sacred element which unites all those who share it in an unbreakable bond. So water is omnipresent in the film and in its visuals- sometimes subtly, sometimes more conspicuously so.
When the NRI Mohan Bhargava arrives in India, he cautiously avoids drinking anything but mineral water, staying in the sanitized confines of his caravan. As he transforms from an outside observer to an active part(icipant) of the community, we watch Mohan as he bathes, sails through- and then, in the most powerful and memorable scene of the film, drink the water of his country. This moment could well be the called the emotional epicenter of the film. Mohan’s transformation is complete- he can no longer be a detached observer.
Later, during the film’s climax, we see Mohan literally plunge into the water reservoir to make the dam turbine work, and generate hydroelectricity. And finally, of course there is the film’s parting shot- Mohan sitting on the banks of the central village water body washing himself with his feet dipped in. The camera slowly zooms out towards the sky and we see hordes of people moving towards the very same water, almost as if attracted by an invisible, magnetic force.
Mohan has found his roots, his people… his home. As Fatema Bi says: ‘अपने ही पानी मे पिघल जाना बर्फ का मुक़द्दर होता है…’
PS: As many have pointed out, this has unintentionally coincided with the current and drastic drought conditions here in Maharashtra. Many of us including me, living in our little comfortable bubbles like Mohan, sometimes don’t realize just how bad the situation is. So have a Happy and dry Holi, guys!🙂