Gowariker, whose last effort, Lagaan, got an Oscar nod (though not a trophy), returns with a story that juxtaposes modern extremes. American space-age technology is contrasted with the hand-to-mouth lives still faced by millions in the Indian subcontinent. To bridge this gap, Gowariker employs Khan as a NASA engineer whose journey of rediscovering India becomes a symbolic bridge that has been better crossed elsewhere.
Swades brings to mind the acutely insightful Hyderabad Blues. What the overachieving Mohan (Khan) stumbles upon instead is a mother-figure nanny he had given up for lost and her daughter-figure schoolteacher companion (Joshi) who Mohan gets sweet on. Becoming entangled in the lives of villagers facing an acute water shortage, Mohan shifts his focus from the challenges of macro-managing a water resources-monitoring NASA satellite to a micro-managed race to pinpoint water for this parched hinterland.
Casting Khan as a frontline NASA engineer presents a glaring inconsistency. Since when do non-U.S. citizens get to work on cutting-edge satellite technology that may affect national security? That said, the use of NASA’s stadium-sized interiors is starkly eye-opening. The scenes filmed at Florida’s Cape Canaveral and DC’s Goddard Space Institute are first-rate. (The full-throttle space shuttle lift-off will surely test the sonic credibility of any home theater).
What Swades lacks, however, is notable music. A.R. Rahman, whose Lagaan score fetched a Filmfare Best Music Award, is only average here. While the roadie song “yunhi chala chal rahi” is catchy, the rest of the score does not coalesce into a winning songpack. While this film of Gowariker may not be Oscar-worthy, Khan’s decent performance and newcomer Joshi providing commendable balance make sure that Swades is not quite a washout either.
Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.