A few observations:
It is the first movie in a long, long while that has one lone plot point driving it from start to end.
Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh), a project manager working on a rainfall monitoring satellite known as Global Precipitation Measurement at NASA, is struck by the most acute form of guilt when he visits India to meet the nanny he considers as his mother (Kishori Balal).
Faced with poverty, caste system, illiteracy, child labour, lack of electricity and a host of other ills that plague India, he decides to channelise his energies into doing his bit for Charanpur (a fictional village said to be about 200 km off Delhi).
Doing his bit translates to 'lighting a bulb,' as his superior John Stockton (a completely wooden Peter Rawley) patronisingly calls it, for his village.
It is a Rs 300 million, three-and-half-hour long moral science lesson.
Detailing a man's journey is all very well, but here is a film that reminds you of those social awareness documentaries that play just before the start of a feature film in theatres across India.
Sure, no one doubts the sincerity of the idea behind making Swades. Conceptually, it is totally noble. But there is something amiss when you have to drive your point home in every frame of the movie. Especially when you have to say it out loud, rather than show it as a film is supposed to do.
Some people would call it talking down to the audience. Taking the audience for granted. Preaching.
And that is what makes Swades laboured viewing. There is so much morality thrown at you that it soon ceases to be a feature film.
It just becomes one long, giant moral science lesson.
The patchy screenplay, confused production design (Nitin Desai), incohesive editing (Ballu Saluja), unimpressive cinematography (Mahesh Aney) and the very 'scripted' dialogues (K P Saxena) are totally secondary, given the larger picture.
And, for once, the songs in the movie -- composed by A R Rahman -- actually come as a welcome relief from the narrative.
That begs the question: Is this the same person who directed Lagaan?
But here are the two main positives of the film:
1. Shah Rukh Khan.
For the first time in a long, long while, Shah Rukh Khan, the actor, IS the role he plays: Mohan Bhargava. And that is one thing director Ashutosh Gowariker should be credited for.
Shah Rukh Khan is sincere, takes you through the gamut of the journey his character experiences, even brings in shades to Mohan Bhargava's character. This may not be his 'best,' but this will definitely go down as one of his most 'genuine' performances.
Newcomer Gayatri Joshi, as Gita, the village schoolteacher, and Mohan's love interest, is fairly competent.
2. And the second positive: Director Gowariker's intentions behind making Swades. It is admirable that he keeps the movie well-grounded and down-to-earth throughout, not succumbing to any commercial pressures.
But all said and done, 'Houston, we [definitely] have a problem.' :-)
Want to see Swades? Check out http://tickets.rediff.com/