Friday, March 13, 2009

My Problem with Swades

Let us, for now, forget Delhi 6 and talk only about Swades. The NRI, Mohan Bhargav, comes to India. At first, he is more or less in the tourist mode, living in a trailer, drinking bottled water, avoiding eating local things. He gets to know the people in the village. Gets to know their problems. Decides that he has to solve them. He decides to build a power plant. He buys all the equipment for making the power plant out of his own pocket. He does not have the support of most people in the village and does it with only a few people on his side.

Compare this with the actual Bilgaon Hydel Power project on which the film is based. The project was initiated by the people of the village themselves. Some of them were members of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and sought their help carrying it out. A village committee was formed, a resolution was passed in the relevant gram panchayat. The system was designed by young engineers from the National School of Energy. More than 2000 man days of shramdan was given by the villagers themselves. AID gave about 12 lacks rupees towards the funding of the project. While the project was operational the villagers paid for their own electricity. There were other agencies involved but in short it was a HUGE collaborative effort.

Mohan Bhargav’s solution is a top down solution. He sat down and decided what to do for the people. The Bilgaon Project is a bottom up solution. The people decided they had to help themselves and sought help from relevant agencies. Mohan Bhargav’s solution is not sustainable. If he leaves, who is going to keep the project running? How is he going to keep it running despite opposition from much of the village? Fortunately he has the changes of heart towards the climax to help him out. Bilgaon Project was self sustaining. The villagers pay for the operation of the plant. They help operate it.

Mohan Bhargav’s aim is not wrong. The way he goes about achieving the aim – single handedly, without public participation, in a top down manner – is wrong.

Swades assumes that a) People are not willing to help themselves and, b) Help should be forced upon them because that’s what’s good for them.

This holier than thou attitude is my problem with Swades.

Getting back to Delhi 6, I’m not saying that it gets it right either. But just the fact that it is Gobar who comes up with the solution to the problem rather than Roshan, makes it a little bit more likable to me.



  1. Well, your criticisms are valid. But to be fair, SRK does stay in the village for a long time before proposing his solution.

    And really he comes to the village with the view of taking Kaveri amma with him, but the villagers and Gita especially, educate him. In some sense they bring light into his lonely life and he brings bijli to them.

    Just my 2 cents.

  2. It seems that SRK's character was so confused. Finally he came back for the country...but the way it is shown seems he came back for the just wasn't clear

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  4. Really Nice Points! Man!

    Went through some posts.. Really liked your writing style.. Subscribed to RSS feeds :)

  5. Some of the greatest innovations are done not by committees or groups of people, but a single (wo)man with the right motivation. Science is ripe with thousands of these men.

    There are somethings that could be done bottom-up, but for innovation most times it has to come top-down. Here is where a leader comes.

    Swades is the story about a man who transforms from a cynical NRI (the lot that typically spends most time cribbing) to somebody who could actually change stuff at the grassroots. The movie is not a documentary about the changes that could happen in the villages, but about the transformation in man. It is about identifying your real inner spirits and pursuing it. Even if it is as crazy as leaving rocket science for a village job, so be it. It is an alchemist story enacted on an Indian village.

    Instead of nitpicking on minor details let us take the movie as a whole and draw inspiration from it.

  6. @ Balaji - I would like to challenge the assertion that innovation can (and has) happened in complete isolation. For one, there is nothing like complete isolation. Even the assumed lonely innovators lived within a vibrant social framework. Einstein is often toted as an armchair physicist in a patent office. In reality he was part of a vibrant member of a physics discussion group called the "Olympia Academy" which forever shaped his physics and philosophic thinking. And so on.

    Name one world-changing innovation that happened in complete isolation and I'd be surprised.

    This is not to belittle individual contribution. It is individuals who make innovations after all. But they do not do this outside of a social context.

    Especially with the so called "social work" it is imperative that the innovation happen within a social context, otherwise it doesn't remain social work but becomes arrogant self-aggrandization.

    Swades is _both_ the story of social change and the change of a person. Depends on how one looks at it. You may find inspiration from the personal aspects of it which is completely fine by me. I can understand why that would be.

    But even then, I don't do the same because the characters don't really appeal to me.