I watch very few movies. And when I do watch them, besides seeking out the entertainment value, I also try and see what we can learn from the movie and the characters. Movies bring alive on wide screen a part of our hidden (and sometimes unknown) selves. What I did know about Swades from watching the promos and reading some of the reviews was that it was set in rural India and was about this NRI (Non-Resident Indian) who comes back.
My connection with rural India is very limited. I go to Rajasthan visiting temples for 3-4 days in a year. [I wrote about last years visit.] Rural India is far away from my life. Yes, there is an idealism of wanting to help transform it, but theres little that I have done towards that other than pointing to Atanus paper on RISC (co-authored with Vinod Khosla) and his writings. Yet, for the most part, Rural India is another world. As my aunt put it when watching the movie: it is a world which people in their 60s know intimately. Those in the 40s may know a little bit of it. Those in the 20s dont care. I could add: those in their 30s (people like me) know a little and care a little, but dont do anything.
I was an NRI for four years (1988-1992). I was among those who knew they would return they left. My father had done the same in the 1960s and that was what was expected of me. So, I did return. In the past 12+ years that I have been in India, there have been a fair share of ups and downs. But not for a moment have I regretted the decision. India is home. I even wrote a Letter to NRIs to think about coming back!
I had liked Ashutosh Gowarikers previous movie enough to write a full Tech Talk series on it: Leadership Lessons from Lagaan. So, going into the movie, I was somewhat positively biased.
When I went to see Swades in the previous week, it was already into its third week. The reviews had not been encouraging. In fact, in India, the movie had not become the hit that had been expected from the maker of Lagaan. The movie had done somewhat better abroad.
I found the movie which I found refreshingly different. It has its flaws feels like a documentary, slow pace, and all that. But if one looks past all of that, Swades is a movie from the heart of Ashutosh Gowariker which not only brings out Shah Rukh Khans best performance to date but also is a call to arms to all of us to bring about change. It has multiple messages not just for NRIs to return home and work towards making difference, but also of how one determined person can transform a community.
If anything, Indias revolution is going to have to come from the grassroots we need a million Gandhis, not just one. Overall, Swades is a movie Id like to recommend to everyone forget its documentary-like feel and other negatives. Look closely at a part of India thats long been disconnected from us. And think what each of us can do to bring about change around us.
Tomorrow: The Story