Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Swades - Where are the people?

Swades is a refreshing change from the world of stereotype ‘masala’ movies churned out dime a dozen by the movie industry. One may wonder whether a movie can made without the following elements thrown in:
- An emotional love story
- An item number
- Violent fight sequences
- A duet song in some exotic locale in Europe or Australia
Cant blame anyone if they conclude that a movie devoid of such elements, if indeed such a movie exists would surely be about the life story of Gandhi, Nehru, Bose or some revered figure in Indian history.

For a start, what makes Swades different is that it is devoid of any such supposedly “success formula” elements. Yes, there is a love story in this movie too; the love story however does not represent the central theme of the movie.For a change one also gets to see Shahrukh back in India (atleast for most part of the movie), after completing a string of “onsite” assignments with Karan Johar’s and Yash Chopra’s of the world.

The movie brings out the reality of life in the Indian heartland. The heartland that contains the majority of the population of our country, located well outside the glitter and money of urban India. The agrarian societies that constitute this heartland, along with the legions of masses who still live below the poverty line who inhibit them, whom we conveniently choose to forget about. The only time these people ever make it to the news is when some kind of devastating calamity occurs which demands the attention of the rest of country and the world. Sadly the reality is what we consider as developed India consists only of the major metros and a few other cities nothing more than that. The real India doesn’t have even basic infrastructure let alone malls and multiplexes. This essential reality that most of us try to escape is one of the views that the movie strives to drive home. A point well made by scenes depicting the foreign returned protagonists’ initial frustration at the lack of mobile phone coverage, rudimentary communication lines and the complete astonishment about the fact that no one has heard of such a thing as internet. The image of the boy selling water for a meager amount wakes one up to the stark reality of the everyday life and struggle of these people.

Another aspect that stood out well was the bold view expressed about culture – cited as the Achilles Heel of western society and the ultimate brahma astra that the Indians wield. In any debate concerning the West Vs India, the person who makes a point about our glorious culture seems to have the last word always, settling the issue once and for all. This false sense of pride and the illusion of cultural superiority that blinds us from logic and reality are highlighted in an argument between the protagonist and the village elders.

The subtle undercurrent of patriotism expressed throughout the movie surely deserves praises. It depicts patriotism in the right perspective. There is no Pakistan bashing or pursuit of jihadi terrorists across the globe and no cricket match against our former imperial masters to depict patriotism. The indefatigable determination of the protagonist to improve the quality of life of his lot despite having to sacrifice the quality of his work and life symbolizes a truly worthy patriotic act. Also worth a mention is the fact that the protagonists return to homeland is not meaninglessly dramatized by clichéd dialogues like – “The smell of Indian soil/air was irresistible” or “The acres of sunflower and wheat fields reminded me of home” or some such unrealistic analogy, which would constitute the most baseless of statements to return back to India.

The depiction of the protagonist as a scientist working with NASA was well thought of. This makes his feat of setting up a small time unit for power generation in the village a more believable feat. NASA itself was depicted in a more realistic light, as a place where useful and serious work is carried out unlike the stereotype view projected by most Hollywood movies where NASA centre is just a launch pad for blasting off into space to defend our planet from alien invaders or killer asteroids.

The idealistic teacher, the caring mid-wife, a multifaceted postman, a optimistic cook, a helpful colleague and skeptical village elders - a range of characters with their own views and values blend in well in their allotted roles. Great tunes, again by Rahman (esp. the title track).

So what’s the flip side of the movie? Two songs – the one during the dasheera celebrations and the duet that subsequently follows a little while later could have been completely done away with, somehow they just don’t fit in with the rest of the movie. The role of the ‘over smart’ kid could have been reduced. Oh yes ,how can one forget the parting gift handed over by the school teacher. Wonder what the reaction of a customs/security official in an US airport would have been to such a gift. These were the only obvious shortcomings.

Most of the other criticisms about the movie, pointed out as reasons for its poor showing at the box office are somehow not convincing enough. ‘The total duration of the movie’ – yes, a three hour plus movie is surely long but people have endured such torments very happily in the past, remember the movies released by a certain ‘Rajshri productions’. ‘Movie could have had more story and depth’ – Offcourse it could have, only it would have resulted in a trilogy like Lord of the Rings or maybe a six part story like Star wars if the protagonist were to solve all the problems plaguing our society and if each character was covered ‘in-depth’. The most meaningless of criticisms were the comparisons drawn with Lagaan. If indeed the director had a mindset like Lagaan while making this movie one could have seen John (the boss in NASA) speaking in typical anglo-hindi, probably would have hurled racist abuses each time Shahrukh calls up to extend his vacation and might have had a sister or daughter who probably loves India and Indian tradition.

The movie is not the intellect or ‘pseudo’ intellect kinds, it is more or less a portrayal of reality. I guess none of us wants to accept reality and least of all the fact that a well to do NRI would give up his comforts and luxury to help out the folks in a remote village while we located at much closer proximity would never have bothered.
Looking at the low number of movie goers turning up to watch this movie one wonders 'Where are the people? '

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Mission Update - Friday Evening

The Crew: The brave men of the FYI squadron whose names shall be engraved forever in the annals of history. These include -
Colonel Blade Mama, Major Uncle Sid, Major MVP Das, Lt. Consultant Nande, Lt. Seminar Chetan, Lt. Marriage Manja, Lt. Chandrappa Sudeep, Lt. Solectron Sudhir and Lt. Prez (without any difference)

Part I: The Hunt for “The Nest”

On a busy Friday evening, the FYI units stormed the area of J.P Nagar from all directions. Their mission: To locate the “Shravanthi Nest” and convey personally, best wishes and congratulations to Mr. & Mrs. Siddharth for successfully establishing an operational base at this location. Apart from this honorable primary objective, there was an unspoken secondary objective to the mission too, that of devouring the free wholesome food served to the famished squadron once the base was reached.

Landing with all your units in one thing, getting the job done is another task altogether. It didn’t take much time for the FYI units to wake up to this reality. Akin to the attitude exhibited by the U.S army units in Iraq (in the early days of the conflict), the FYI units landed in the unknown terrain of J.P Nagar with an absolute confidence(overconfidence ??) that the primary objective could be accomplished in no time at all. Some like Lt. Sudhir exhibited what can termed as sheer ‘arrogance’ by not even bothering to carry along the address and route map required to reach the base.

The FYI units that took part in this operation could be classified on the following lines:
a) Two foot soldier units: One unit was a lone force comprising of Lt. Sudhir while the other foot unit constituted of myself and my guide Tank a.k.a. Ananth (close friend and fellow colleague) who had a fairly good idea about the layout and other details of this unfamiliar terrain.
b) Mobile Armored Division: Another solo unit comprising of Lt. Sudeep in his maruthi.
c) The squadron of 4: Comprising of Lt. Manja, Lt. Cheta, Lt. Nande and Major Das. Lt. Manja was the only contact point and spokesperson for this group.
d) The one man army of Colonel Mama ( Note: 1 Mama = 100 soldiers)

With the help of my guide I had nearly zeroed in the on the base when the first cry of distress came from Sudhir who was well err…basically lost. Tank brought him back on track and arranged for a rendezvous point where I could meet him and proceed to base. Unfortunately at this critical juncture a major lapse occurred. The location that we had ascertained as base was “Shravanthi Pride – I” and not “Shravanthi Nest”, which was the desired location. Without realizing this I hastily dispatched of the services of my guide and backtracked to the rendezvous point to meet Sudhir. Well after the meeting, it was now a situation of two lost soldiers instead of one. By this time cries of distress emanated from the “Squadron of 4” too. We were soon floundering in the landscape as clueless as the US Marines at Fallujah.
We had nearly lost all hope and that’s when we saw Sudeep’s armored division. Our joy knew no bounds. We were surely going to be rescued now. This surge of hope stemmed from the assumption that Sudeep would surely know a thing or two about this area (BSK is closer to JP Nagar than Rajajinagar or Malleswaram, this crucial fact formed the basis of our assumption that Sudeep would know more than us) Well our assumption was proved completely baseless as we realized that the armored division itself was floating around aimlessly in the streets terrorizing the inhabitants of this quiet neighborhood by driving in high beam.

By sheer chance of fortune combined with the acumen of Sudhir (more of the former in this case) we stumbled upon the base. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen we finally made it. Sudhir subsequently guided the “Squadron of 4” to the base.

Part II: At the Base & The arrival of Mama

Uncle Sid initiated a guided tour of the base. Once could notice that he was beaming with pride and rightly so as this was no ordinary feat. Surely a difficult task for the other FYI members to emulate but an inspiration nonetheless. Kudos to uncle !!

What followed was a long session of catching up on stories and recounting of the old heroic tales e.g. playing unreal in training days. Apart from this there was some socializing to be done too the most notable ones being with the WWF star of our training batch “Tatanka” and the other was with Mukund Kamath. Sudeep wishing Mukund “heartily” without having a clue about the context was sight worth watching. Offcourse, the later responded immediately with a bigger blooper, complaining loudly that he never got to see Sudeep and myself in office for quite sometime (??).

We were all set to head for dinner and that’s when Colonel Mama arrived. After completing his conference calls, filling out all excel sheets and approving a whole lot of DART’s, the great man landed up just in time to grace the occasion. Though work was sited as the “official” reason for his late entry there were a number of theories, rumors etc floating around, disputing this. The most popular ones were – “Colonel doesn’t like to been seen in the company of ordinary ‘bloody Indian soldiers’” and “Mama is ‘site’-seeing i.e. looking for a plot to buy on return from his next onsite assignment”. In any case if Mama is planning to construct a house our sincere advice to him would be to buy a plot in the vicinity of “Devanahalli” – would drastically reduce his “land travel time” in India.

Part III: Dinner

BURP !!!!! Well that says it all doesn’t it. :-)
Successfully completely Agenda 2 of the mission the troops happily marched home to enjoy their weekend.

Note from the author:

The following members of the FYI units were missed during the get together –
General GG, Lt. What ra Kalkoti, Lt. I.E Venky and Lt. Mao Tse PP. Hope to catch up with them sometime.

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