Originally written for Passionforcinema.com. The article has been originally published here.
I despise comparing films, and neither does this article compares Rang De and Swades( it does a wee bit in the end!). But, it is my take on the two movies( mostly independent), though coupled with how Indian audience perceives patriotic movies.
Rang De Basanti is the story of four youngsters, who are indifferent to the current state of affairs in our country. Graduall they discover what their country was, what did the coveted feeling azadi meant to the Bhagat Singhs, Azads, the Sukhdevs, and are enlightened when they see the present situation with reference to sitting in the CCDs, Baristas and complaining Is Desh ka kuch nahin ho sakta.
The movie opens to a typically brash, fun loving college going kids who are not concerned about anything but their own nothingness, their own small world, where they are the self confessed kings, and care two hoots about the whole world. Their shallowness dictates their life, until they meet Sue, a documentary filmmaker from Britain who is here to make a movie on India’s freedom fighters. Their face to face with India’s history makes them realize what India was, what India has become, and what it should be. The death of their friend and the system’s apathy towards the same is a triggering factor for them to want and enforce a change.
Swades is about Mohan Bhargava, a scientist in U.S.A who comes to India to take his nanny back. In a queer way, Swades is also about the realization of its chief protoganist, though here it is via witnessing the things first hand and then contemplating. The tranisition of Mohan is very much slow and hence, believable, though accused by everyone as very documentarish and slow.
Mohan goes through and sees a myriad things, before transitioning to drinking water from kulhad at the unknown Ankola station for 25 paisa. That is not even 1 cent, Mohan’s own plush life in NASA meets a contrasting life of wretchedness in a totally heartfelt manner. If, one strips himself of all humane values, and sees the movie ‘objectively’, it is nothing but a documentary, where Mohan moves from one place to another and ‘preaches’ the gaonwallahs about the boons of education, self reliance and other socially relevant topics. But, Mohan’s traverse through the villages, India’s most talked about problems places Mohan with respect to his country on a different plane.
In Rang De Basanti, I absolutely loved the character’s re’discovering’ India’s glorious past and connecting with the morals and the struggle of the freedom fighters amidst the mindless fun. The protoganists are shocked to find the system’s indifference to their friend’s death, and they are shocked only because they know what is and has been going on. Because, the system had been an eunuch for long. It is only of late, they found that. Now, a major issue regarding projecting a problem is to also give out its solution. Though not necessary, that is how most hindi movies are chalked out. And that is where Rang De Basant frittered it all away. For me. Though the very same climax heightened the crescendo of emotions triggered earlier in the movie by the Khoon Chala song. Had the last half hour or so would have been considerably less loud, and hence, less self defensive in approach( humein pata hai, humne jo kiya wo sai nai hai) and also not preachy( Koi bhi desh perfect nai hota, use perfect banana padta hai), the movie could have clinched it for me. Although all said and done, Rang De Basanti was still a good entertainer(some of the highest grossers of 2006 were Dhoom2, KANK, Fanna..well, well, well!). But, RDB did manage to impress, numb, and made everyone to contemplate because the climax had the ’shock’ value, the thrill, the snapping of emotional chords between the audience and the characters. RDB gave it with glee, what the audience expected and demanded. That is why it went on to become such a huge hit.
Coming now to Swades, it is a movie which can be so typically put under the common ‘Bollywood’ watching audience’s parlance, a movie, where ‘nothing happens’. And according to me, that is how it should be. Have you ever realized something in your life? Be it of any importance. We all have realised things in our insignificant ways. And how did that realization come? Not through some background music, nor was it followed by heavy down handing of massive dialogue(s). To portray all this on the celluloid was very difficult, almost as difficult as realising a difficult looking story like Lagaan onto the silver screen. But, Gowariker did it.
The once cynical Mohan now believes that something can be done. Something should be done. And he feels the onus is on him, he feels the ‘guilty’ are they and also ‘us’, if we don’t do anything about it. The ‘us’ of RDB also tried to take the baton, although what they did eventually was as immature, rash and so consistent with their character is a different thing all together.
Mohan embraces us, and contributes whatever he can to kill the deficiency that is plaguing his village. An engineering dispelling the darkness of his own village, if that is not ‘awakening’, what else is? Swades is discovery of a man’s roots. Both films( and almost every second hindi film) can be accused of being impractical, but, what is more impractical? Gunning a minister for venting out one’s frustration in the garb of patriotism, or an educated giving something back to the country? There have been people like Mohan who have came back and delivered( whether you want to scoff at them for they being impractical is your take). The point is not about a movie mirroring the real life more closely. The point, I’m trying to drive home is something else. Audience. And its choice. Rang De Basanti was an entertainer and the bonhomie of its college going characters, characterization, dialogues, almost hit the bull’s eye. Songs bound with the narratives, and Joshi’s words danced to Rehman’s tune. I take nothing of that fact away.
But, why did we shoo Swades of? A film that was so rich in its message, a film that had soul, a film that had Shahrukh(’ King Khan’) in his career’s best performance, a film which talked about something which so happens, though without being preachy. You can sleepwalk over its documentarish structure and may not even realize it is patriotic. Because, it talks about the problems within( both inside us, and in the country).
Why was Gadar the top grosser of 2001? Because, it had the so obvious Anti Pakistan references? I know Swades wasn’t cool, I know Swades didn’t have ‘Behen de Takke‘, I know Swades didn’t have ‘Hindustaan Zindabad’, or ‘xyz murdabad‘ and the thousand in your face facets of patriotism, it wasn’t hilarious in parts either. Jo log behre hote hain, unhe dhamaake ki zaroorat hoti hai. Swades had no dhamaka, it had no blockbuster elements, is that why the Indian audience didn’t listen?
For the mere selfishness of watching good hindi movies in future, I just hope that Swades finds its audience someday. Because it our choices of today that is going to determine what is going to be made tommorow.