by Oren Golan
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From Ashutosh Gowariker, the director of Lagaan, comes a movie about an Indian who returns to his native land for the first time in 12 years. Mohan has been living in New York all that time, and has become a very successful scientist working for NASA. Shahrukh Khan (Main Hoon Na ,Hey Ram) plays Mohan, who decides to return to India to bring his childhood nanny, Kaveriamma, back to the U.S. with him.
When he arrives in New Delhi, Mohan discovers that Kaveriamma has been taken to a village way off-the-beaten-path named Chalanpur. Mohan seems quite out of place in Chalanpur, wearing jeans and plaid shirts and toting bottled water with him everywhere. The village has electricity in only some of its homes, and even that is periodically blacked-out. The villagers have been waiting for years for bureaucrats to deal with the problem to no avail. Mohan sets to work on empowering the villagers by helping them create electricity themselves, bypassing the government. Mohan’s Western values clash with the village leaders on issues of caste, gender equality, and the superiority of Indian culture. Oh, and Mohan meets his old childhood friend Gita, a stunningly beautiful woman searching for a husband who will let her work and will remain in Chalanpur.
Like many Bollywood films, this one is longer than the typical American fare clocking in at over 195 minutes - I lost count due to the intermission. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that the movie does drag in a few spots, particularly near the end. That said, there are a few very touching scenes as Mohan is exposed to the abject poverty that still exists in the countryside of his homeland - in particular when Mohan finally buys a cup of the local water out of pity for the emaciated boy selling glasses of water for pennies.
Swades seems at times like a recruiting tool to bring back those Indians that have honed their technical skills abroad to return home and make India a better place. Actually, it seems that way for almost the entire film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can make the action boring at times for a Western viewer. There are some good and humorous turns by some of the villagers, in particular the postmaster/wrestler, and some pretty good music. But if you are not an Indian expat, this film might take too long to get to its fairly obvious conclusion.
Oren Golan is an attorney in Chicago when he isn’t arguing that Streets of Fire is the greatest movie ever made.
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