I hit Swades in my scheduled repostings, and I thought it might be fun to write a re-review to go up the same day as the regular review.
I really covered quite a lot in my original Swades review, the idea of community and home and the traveler finding a place and so on. So in this review, I am going to simply look at Swades as a love story.
For a subset of people, Swades is less important because it is about being an immigrant and so on, and more important because it is about a mature unusual love story in which our hero falls in love with our heroines’ mind. Isn’t that nice? A mature intelligent woman who is loved because she is smart, and outspoken, and independent? And not in that over the top obvious way, not like she is constantly fighting for her place in the world, but like she is calmly sure of her own place and is fighting for others.
This is not the standard Indian film heroine, or romance. Not because there aren’t brave intelligent Indian film heroines, but because they usually do have to fight for their place more than this. I really have no sense of how unusual our heroine here, the head of her household with no man controlling her, is in India. But from my perspective, she is extra special since she represents a very common type of person in the West. She’s not terribly young, she would like to get married but it isn’t at the top of her mind, she has responsibilities and ambitions and is quietly going about her life without, and then someone falls in love with her for all the things she is.
Maybe what makes this central romance so unusual is that it is between two people who are fully formed? The fantasy of romance in most movies is people who are magically just right, who are a perfect fit, who “complete” each other. Or, alternatively, who are young and fragile and unformed and just magically fall in love and it’s all rainbows and sunshine. This movie isn’t that. Our hero and heroine, Shahrukh and Gayatri Joshi, are fully formed people and they aren’t so immature as to rush into something without thinking. So they quietly manouver around each other and consider each other and are very aware of the limitations and possibilities of their relationship without needing a fight to define it.
I really can’t think of another Indian film romance quite like this. Partly because it isn’t a romance, not really. It is about two people doing things in the world, who happen to also be falling in love on the side. That’s the other part of them being fully formed, they are fully formed people who aren’t going to set aside all the other stuff going on just because they are falling in love. That’s what it means to be an adult person, you can multi-task, be in love and also do your job.
That’s the best description I think I will come up with for this movie, it’s a multi-tasking film, about people doing a whole bunch of stuff all at the same time, including falling in love. The love story isn’t an after thought, for the film or the characters, but it also isn’t the Only Thought.
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Shahrukh is a successful scientist working at NASA, a little old to be unmarried, a little lonely, but satisfied in his career. He goes home to India to find an old nanny who worked for his family and finds her living in a village as part of a household headed by a young teacher/school principal. Shahrukh is invited to stay with them but the young woman resents him. They talk over dinner about responsibility to the community, he sees how she struggles to keep her school open, she has a potential groom and his family come and he watches her explain what she wants out of marriage. She sees him be nice to her little brother, be kind and open to everyone who talks to him, and eventually start helping the village on his own. All of this is who they are without influence of falling in love. Only after they have observed each other and danced around each other and considered each other for weeks, does she calmly say “I love you” and they calmly start spending time together. It’s not “dating” in a small village, it’s just sitting together and talking and walking. And then he goes back to his life, as he had always planned to return, and she continues with her life, as she had always planned to continue. He returns to America and finds he is missing the village, and plans to quit his job and go back to India because it is what he wants for himself. We end seeing him happily in the village, with all the other people, and also with her, smiling together.
I guess what makes this romance unusual is that they don’t even consider changing for each other. Or asking the other person to change. They fall in love with who the person is now, not the possibility of what they might be in the future. That’s why it takes so long, they are both testing the other one, checking for who they are and how they are now, and if that person is worthy. Once they decide to fall in love (and it is a decision in this case, to let themselves acknowledge those feelings), they still don’t expect change. If Shahrukh decides to live in the village for his own happiness outside of Gayatri, that’s wonderful for her. And if Gayatri decides to leave the village, that’s wonderful for Shahrukh. But neither of them will even bring up the possibility with the other. Because that’s a fantasy, and it’s not an adult way to look at the world.
The first time I watched this movie, really the first few times, I was angry that we didn’t get a big solid resolution to the romance. The build up was lovely, and then he just leaves the village? And all she does is give him a box and some photos? And then in the end he comes back, and we see them in the village together, but not hugging or kissing or anything? Where is my big run towards each other embrace? Or dramatic farewell scene? Or breakup fight?
But now, I think that is the point. All of those romantic tropes are about sacrifice and magic and all kinds of things. But this movie isn’t about that. It’s about two people living their lives and thinking about what gives them meaning, purpose, value. And separate, off to the side in it’s proper place and importance, their own love for each other. It’s about two people who love each other enough to keep each other free.