The year was 2004, and I first saw the trailer of Swades on the TV.
It seemed like an interesting film, and I was impressed that Shah Rukh Khan would take up the film, something that was totally out of his comfort zone.
He was done playing the Lover Boy in Europe, the Lover Boy with a daughter, the Lover Boy with students, the Lover Boy who dances in a troupe, and the Lover Boy who knows all about loving his family. Quite clearly, he needed to do something different.
It must have been quite a bold decision for him to make. The film wasn’t being made by the Johars, or the Chopras. Ashutosh Gowariker, fresh from the colossal success that was Lagaan, had both directed and produced it. Shah Rukh Khan did not wear colourful clothes that seemed to be stolen from a Gay Pride parade, and he didn’t stretch his hands out in the trailer.
It was a clear departure from the kind of films he had been churning out for more than a decade. I wondered if he was finally waking up to the fact that he could not dance around trees after reaching the age of 40. That he was looking for more grounded roles, and sensible cinema.
Though I didn’t go in with a lot of expectations, the film managed to capture my interest from the beginning.
It had an interesting premise, that of a NASA employee who comes to visit his childhood maid, and the experience transforms him. While the above description does not sound terribly exciting, it was a charming story.
There were no evil Zamindars, no Ramu Kaka, no weeping mothers with arati plates and the curtains flying. It was a simple story with a heart, and resorted to no gimmicks or unnecessary histrionics to move the story forward.
The biggest surprise of the film was Shah Rukh Khan. Now, whether you love him or hate him, Shah Rukh Khan is in your face throughout the year. Terrible as his choice of films may be, one cannot deny the fact that he has got tremendous screen presence. In Swades, he comes across as genuinely likeable.
Forget Kajol and Rani Mukherjee, the chemistry that SRK shared with the actress Gayatri Joshi (where on earth is she??) is the most I have seen with any actress he has shared screen space with. The two didn’t break into song in Holland or Greece at the drop of a hat, but there was enough in the plot to keep the tension going.
The soundtrack by Rahman is one of those less popular, but superior ones that vanish behind the Jai Ho and Naadaan Parindey.
The film did not have a fight in the climax, and no item numbers, and yet, when the film came to an end, there was a general sense of satisfaction I felt.
But the empty halls and poor reviews told another story. Taran Adarsh, the genius who said Ra.One has ‘soul’, and that ‘Rascals’ is hilarious, used all his film critiquing acumen to say, “The story of SWADES would’ve been ideal for a documentary…”
Even though some of the critics raved about the film, Swades eventually flopped.
Ashutosh Gowarikar took a sabbatical for four long years. And Shah Rukh Khan went back to his Om Shanti Om and Rab Ne Banadi kind of films.
Now, when I see films like Ra.One, or SRK monkeying around at Filmfare awards in a Sheila costume, I wonder if he’d be doing this if Swades had gone on to become a hit?