Check out one of the best scenes ever in Hindi Cinema – one that has great direction, cinematography, acting and background music. Also check out two interviews of Ashutosh Gowariker on Swades.
Swades Train Scene <3 pic.twitter.com/7VVhnv6cys
— KING (@Glorious_SRK) March 18, 2017
Here is Ashutosh Gowariker’s interview before the release of the movie.
His office, resurrected in late music composer Madan Mahan’s recording studio, is buzzing with pre-release preparations of Swades. But compared to other offices during similar times, the atmosphere is congenial. Inside Ashutosh Gawarikar’s cabin, Satyajit Ray and Guru Dutt stare at you from life size posters, as if urging the young master to pursue their incomplete dreams. And amidst all these stalwarts, in a quite corner, stands a timeless poster of Shah Rukh Khan shot against the skyline. Cross armed, contemplative, as if assuring the dream merchants that Swades will walk into their footsteps if not fulfill all their dreams.
How and when was Swades conceived?
I was writing Swades around the same time as Lagaan and my first draft of both were ready at the same time. In fact, I had the option to make either of the films that time but I opted for Lagaan because I felt the script had more bravado. After failing in my earlier two attempts, I didn’t want to play safe, I wanted to take a leap. And today, I feel it was the right choice because Swades is an extension of the issues I raised in Lagaan. The story stems from our basic self-absorption, our disregard and dismay over situations surrounding us — It’s about how easily we accept all the wrong doings — About how we always wait for someone else to clean up the system.
Does the dismay and disregard stem out of any personal experience you’ve encountered?
No, there are no autobiographical sketches in Swades. But all the research I did during the making of Lagaan played on my mind and reflects in Swades. In Lagaan if you remember, I portray only one widow and one untouchable. It’s not possible that in the entire village of Champaner there are no more widows or untouchables. But the story didn’t leave scope for details so one just touched upon the topics of castesism and interdependence in rural life and went ahead with the original plot. In Swades the story allows these details so I’ve explored the plot in-depth.
Hope and despair seem to be recurring emotions in your songs…
These are recurring emotions in life but in my songs they are predominant, I agree. It’s because we are at a subconscious level always humming when either happy or sad…
What made you set the film in a village? Is your early influences made up of rural memories?
We hail from Kolhapure, which is a small village in Maharashtra. All through my school days our parents took us children twice a year for vacations to our ancestral home. During these holidays, I’ve had my share of fields, plucking mangoes and travelling by rail but that’s not my reason for making the film. I have a studied theory, which is all of us essentially originate from the village. It’s over the passage of time that we have migrated to metropolis and overseas. Migration, both mental and physical is the core of my script.
You are drawn to noble subjects, would you say you are an idealist?
Patriotism for me is not something in competition with an outsider but something within myself. Why is that our patriotism is only restricted to the one-day matches of India Pakistan or war at Kargil? In our day-to-day life we have no qualms of jumping traffic lights, messing with public property and abusing our rights. I’m not choosing these subjects because I want to project myself noble. I’m making the film because I want to highlight the indignity of human existence. If Swades can stir and activate even a few of my audience, I would have succeeded in provoking the conscience of people.
When younger, were you conscious of the indignity and the injustice of life?
No, I was quite naive actually and indifferent to my surroundings. I was in my own world even after I graduated and started working. The consciousness seeped in much later.
After Pehla Nasha and Baazi… ?
(Laughs). Yes, after the failures. They say anxiety brings wisdom. I learnt from my mistakes and rediscovered both cinema and life. At the cost of sounding pompous I analyse in minute detail the makings of our glorious filmmakers. I reflected on the magic of makers like V Shantaram, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy or Raj Kapoor. I discovered that they were effective because they had conviction. I needed to search myself and define my conviction. I found my identity in Lagaan and now in Swades. I look back on Pehla Nasha and Baazi as my expensive diploma films without which I could not have reached where I am today.
Was it a conscious decision to not cast Aamir Khan in Swades?
My protagonist, Mohan Bhargav called for a certain carelessness, a slightly irresponsible streak in his persona, which I felt didn’t suit Aamir Khan. After playing Bhuvan in Lagaan, I felt that the audience would not accept him saying anything against the country. Probably I’m wrong because they accepted him in Dil Chahta Hai, but I had to follow my instinct and Aamir agreed after some reluctance.
You didn’t feel that you were obliged to cast him. He starred in your film during your lean phase and re-launched you as a director as well?
You are right, morally I owed it to him and there is no justification for me to not cast him in my next project. But I cannot cheat with my convictions and if I did I cannot respect myself. Ideally, I would have liked Aamir Khan Productions to produce Swades but that would have been unreasonable. What has to be appreciated however is that this has not affected our relationship. There will be plenty of opportunities in future when we could be working together. I must add though that you should re-address this question to me after seeing the film to understand the true casting.
Now that you have worked with both the Khans, how would you describe their charisma?
Both stand for diametrically different things and yet both are heroic. One has effervescence and the other has stability. It has probably something to do with their energies because as a director, I have enjoyed the experience of working with both of them thoroughly.
Are your equations with both diametrically different too?
I started my acting career with both around the same time. Aamir and I worked together for Holi and Shah Rukh and I did Circus. Later, when I was doing Baazi with Aamir, I was doing Chamatkar and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na with Shah Rukh. Shah Rukh always said that I was a bad actor. But while as a colleague Shah Rukh could give me suggestions, as a director he had to listen to me. It was initially awkward. He was taken aback when I insisted on a script reading with the full unit. He had never done rehearsal. But when I explained to him that it was necessary to break the defenses of the co-actors, he understood. By the end of the first schedule, we had worked out our comfort zone.
Is it comfort again that drives you to old associates like AR Rehman and lyricist Javed Akhtar?
I have an extremely productive working relationship with both. I have great admiration and respect for their commitment and talent. Being with them, participating in the process of their creativity has been for me a very fulfilling creative experience.
Why do you insist on a new girl in every film?
This is only the second film so give me a break. And there is a reason for it. The leading lady and the supporting cast form a part of a new world discovered by the hero. Even the children were all picked up locally after extensive workshops. Let me tell you that it is very demanding working with new comers. There are usually two or three stages of breaking their defenses. But when they finally relax, they surrender completely. For this, one needs to spend time with them and be patient. I did both. Those who know me will agree that I don’t give up easily.
You took almost 16 months to step out of the merry-go-around of Lagaan.
That’s not fair. On the contrary it was the audience who got obsessed with Lagaan. Even now they aren’t letting go off the film. My attachment is understandable. As a parent I could not break away from the film, particularly when success was coming to me after such a log time. The best way I can describe the feeling is comparing it to a child visiting a fair. Until the child has enjoyed all the rides and is completely satiated, she isn’t going to return home. And until then, as a father, I will have to hold her finger and enjoy the merry-go-round.
In retrospect, do you feel that Aamir Khan got more credit for Lagaan than you?
No, I got my deserving share. Aamir picked me from the rut and gave a fresh lease to my career. Had it not been for him, I would have probably given up. Here was an actor who always said that he would never get into film production but he did for me and at what cost! He was an equal and a graceful parent of my creative project.
After what happened to Aamir Khan’s personal life in the process of launching a production company, weren’t you apprehensive including wife Sunita as the production head?
There is a big difference. I didn’t go to her because I didn’t find a worthy executive producer for my production company. I launched my banner after she agreed to be the producer. We decided to launch our company because we wanted basic comfort during our creative journey. Lagaan had been a fulfilling experience and I didn’t want an outside producer curbing me in Swades. There were no apprehensions once we had made the decision. I never felt inadequate because I had sufficient exposure during my last three films. And due to my curious nature I had learnt a lot from observing.
There were some talks about you doing a Hollywood film?
Aamir and I were supposed to do it together in the wake of Lagaan but both of us are not the kind to strategise proposals. Cinema has to come from the heart. It has to move you, matter to you…to an extent that it hounds and haunts you. Like Swades did for me to plunge headlong. I have an agent in Los Angeles and he is upset because he has sent me so many proposals over the year and I have refused everything. He often asks me if I’m serious about an international project because he doubts my intentions. I tell him I cannot be rushed or pushed into a proposal. I have to follow my rhythm and heart. He is feeling frustrated because I’m refusing to make a trip to LA. He argues that everything cannot be done via email. It can’t but right now I’m not going anywhere because my heart is set in my country.
This is the first time the country will get to watch their super star without his designer wear and the credit goes to you.
And he looks good, doesn’t he? The half-sleeve, simple, cotton shirts look good on Shah Rukh. And let us not delude ourselves because he has a designer in this film too. Oscar winner Bhanu Athaiya. In the final analysis, wardrobe or performance of an artist has to be driven by logic. He has to look and move the way someone in his circumstances would, and we have merely followed that.
Here is another Ashutosh Gowariker interview just after the release of the movie.
“Swades” hasn’t opened that well.
The film hasn’t yet got the audience it is meant to. The fact that it’s a little different and even the promotional clippings suggested nothing else could’ve something to do with this. Yes, the film is a little bit slow paced. That’s because the dramatic thrust has a lot of gravity in it.
Such films do need more time to develop. We need the audience to accept the languorous pace. In today’s times films are paced like the Frontier Mail. I want audiences to watch “Swades” more compassionately than the usual and go beyond the pace.
“Swades” is being seen as a propagandist cinema.
Propaganda is generally associated with political parties. I wouldn’t like to see the ideas in “Swades” as propagandist. But it definitely projects nationalism. It begins as a story of an individual’s growing consciousness and then gets more societal.
Problems like drinking water and enough food below the poverty line are alien to metropolitan audiences. Is that why you brought in Shah Rukh Khan?
I never thought of him as a ploy to get in audiences. In fact I never got into a particular audience profile, tailoring my script accordingly. I wanted the audience to share my social consciousness. Even I’ve thought in the past, ‘Iss desh ka kuch nahin ho sakta’ (This country is beyond redemption!).
We need to break away from such cynicism. Thoughts on the decline in moral and living standards in our country were with me from before the time I wrote “Lagaan”. In fact I started writing “Swades” at the same time. To get into something as realistic as “Swades” I needed to do extensive research. And I didn’t want a research panel to do it for me. I preferred to do my own research. I discovered things about our country that I wasn’t aware of earlier.
So like your protagonist Mohan Bhargava you too went through a process of self-discovery?
Yes. And the poverty that I discovered isn’t restricted to rural India. Even at the traffic signal in the city when a child comes with outstretched hands, it’s an image that affects your conscience if you allow it to. We should stop believing that a change in the social order is someone else’s problem.
The film gets progressively polemical in tone?
The era of looking back in anger at social problems is over. We need to look back emotionally. That’s the need of the hour. That’s what “Swades” does. There’s mass scale migration from the villages to cities and from cities to abroad. We say that’s because there’re no job opportunities. But these opportunities need to be created.
In “Swades” I wanted all of us to revisit old-world values. So no… I’m not preaching. I’m reminding you of what we’ve lost. I want the audiences’ conscience to be pricked.
“Swades” harks back to Bimal Roy’s “Do Bigha Zameen”.
I’m deeply moved by the cinema of the 1950s, be it Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy or V. Shantaram. They made films about the grass roots when our society was optimistic. Today there’s complete despair. But we need to regain our positive outlook. It might take us another 50 years to regain our optimism.
But let’s start somewhere. Every time I leave the theatre after a movie, there’re questions in my mind. I don’t want questions any longer. Let’s have some solutions. Each one of us is an expert on the problems faced by our country. But where are the solutions? To me the country’s main issue should be education. And it should be pushed as hard as possible.
Why Shah Rukh?
I needed someone who isn’t cynical and yet when he thinks the West is where the action is… contrasting qualities rolled into one. I needed an actor with an unpredictable quality about him. Shah Rukh has it. That Shah Rukh Khan could ride a train, bus or boat as he does in “Swades” is unheard of. People said: how could I make him do all this? But Shah Rukh is basically from the grass roots. Thanks to his screen image, he could look an outsider in the situations given in my film. I needed that look. Shah Rukh could be the outsider looking into social issues with a sense of dismay and wonderment.
And I had hoped his angst would affect the audience. All this wasn’t done to be clever as a filmmaker. Shah Rukh and I bonded so well we never realised when the film started. We had done three films together as actors. In “Swades” we had a ball together. Neither of us was trying to impress the other. I had a script reading with him before shooting. He had never done that before in a movie. But because of the preparation no actor looks in awe of Shah Rukh in screen.
Both “Lagaan” and “Swades” were about rural exploitation.
After “Lagaan” I could’ve easily made a happy fantasy film like “Goopi Gayen Bagan Bayen” (Satyajit Ray’s Bengali film). But social issues started worrying me. So I thought, why not use my clout as the director of “Lagaan” to make a film that would otherwise find it hard to find an audience.
“Swades” is a much tougher film than “Lagaan”. I couldn’t make it with Aamir Khan. He became too big after “Lagaan”. We had a heart-to-heart chat. It would have been perfectly natural to cast him in my next. But I couldn’t tailor my script for him. He understood what I was saying.
Did you make a concerted effort to cast untried faces?
Absolutely. It was about the protagonist coming into a new world. So everyone had to be new. The leading lady Gayatri Joshi… I met her at a party. I needed an intelligent city girl.
Will “Swades” make as much difference as “Lagaan”?
Before making a difference it will have to find acceptance. I haven’t done anything for effect in “Swades”. “Lagaan” was a formula film. “Swades” flies at one altitude. That’s tough to do. I hope “Swades” will get an audience in rural areas.
I’ve kept the narrative deliberately simplistic. I see “Swades” as more than a film. For me entertainment ends in the theatre. Then there’s the carry-home. I want that aspect to be strong. “Swades” cost more than 200 million rupees ($4.5 million). I could’ve made it in Rs.60 million. But then the mountains and the boat ride would have been shot in Film City in Mumbai. NASA would’ve been an office in Nariman Point in Mumbai. Let’s see how it goes. I haven’t made it for money. But the distributors should get back their money.
I’ve got two scripts ready. I’m going to announce it within the next three days. It won’t be a rural film. And, yes, it will have established stars.