The story of Swades begins with the introduction of Mohan Bhargava (Shahrukh Khan), an Indian living and working in the USA. Mohan, a scientist for NASA is assigned to the Global Precipitation Measurement Satellite project. From the exterior all seems well for Mohan, but he is troubled with the thoughts of his childhood nanny Kaveriamma (Kishori Balal) who still resides in India. With the thoughts plaguing his mind, he instinctively decides to travel to India and trace the whereabouts of Kaveriamma. His search traces her to a small remote and isolated village in the state of Uttar Pradesh, known as Charanpur.
The village is far removed from what Mohan is accustomed to in America, running clean water and electricity and other modern amenities are simply not present. The shock is evident for Mohan as he finds it hard to adjust to his new surroundings. Even the local residents of Charanpur prove to confuse Mohan, their views, beliefs and attitude all seem to go against those of his own. It is clear that Mohan’s only goal is to return back to America with Kaveriamma. However, there is a hindrance to Mohan’s requests in the form of Gita (Gayatri Joshi). Gita has been caring for Kaveriamma while he has been away in America and her refusal to let go of the elderly woman who is also mother figure to her creates more complications.
A teacher at the local school, Gita is a young well-educated woman, she proves to be more than a match for Mohan. This is evident from the conversations where Mohan and her share. Mohan’s criticisms of the village residents refusal to accept change and their passive attitude towards their own government’s inability to provide for them, is reversed by Gita questioning his own contribution to this society and India.
Kaveriamma is left with a dilemma, whatever decision she to makes will inevitably hurt someone very dear to her, and she decides to make her decision once Mohan completes a small task. Mohan is a told to collect the overdue rent from a poor farmer who has leased a small piece of land from Gita. However, this small task sparks a change in Mohan’s views and attitude completely. Mohan takes it upon himself to bring change to the people of Charanpur through the simple act of powering a light bulb.
Shahrukh Kahn proves once again his versatility playing the lead character role of Mohan. He provides the necessary subtle and restrained performance to portray Mohan as a compassionate yet believable character. Gayatri Joshi makes her debut in Swades, she provides the necessary confidence, grace and poise to bring the character Gita to life. Her performance was strong and as showcased with the believable confrontations between Gita and Mohan. Her natural beauty is perfect for the role of Gita, she simply lights up the screen.
The music in Swades is restrained and not the usual typical aimed at a particular audience. The songs and scores are perfectly suited to the film and the timing and use in the film are perfectly matched and add a certain feeling and soul to the particular scene and situation.
After directing the successful Academy Award nominated film Lagaan, Gowarikar opts for a lower budget present-day setting in the form of Swades. Swades is not quite on par with Lagaan’s presentation and finish; flaws in the pace of the film and camera work are evident. However, these minor flaws can easily be overlooked. Swades serves as timely reminder for everyone, that each of us is individually responsible and change can only occur if we act and make a difference.