By Ashutosh Gowariker (2004)
“Swades” (pronounced “Swah-DESH is the first commercial Indian film to be nominated for a “Best Foreign Film” Oscar. I’ve obtained it a couple times from Netflix here in the U.S., so it can’t be too tough to procure. It is in Hindi (almost Hinglish), but there are English subtitles. As is about typical for Bollywood films, it’s about 3.5 hours long, so one has to be strategic about its use in a class. I’m actually in the process of preparing a conference paper (for the American Anthropological Association meeting), half of which discusses the film, so I’ll just give you part of my draft from that:
The film’s plot revolves around the character of Mohan Bhargava (played by Bollywood megastar Shahrukh Khan), an “NRI” (non-resident Indian) engineer living in the United States and working as the project manager for a NASA satellite program to measure global precipitation. Homesick and lonely, Mohan takes a short-notice vacation to return to India and find his nanny, who he has last touch with over the years. Despite the inclusion of several stock Bollywood elements of plot and style—a love interest initially denied, affirmation of the importance of family, interludes with song and dance—the film was not judged a significant popular success, but critics gave it strong accolades as “a film that needed to be made.”
The film is a rich thematic tapestry, juxtaposing global cosmopolitanism with rural India, national identity with familial obligation, spectacular “high technology” with developmental priorities. Atypically attuned to social discourse for a Bollywood film, it is particularly important for what it reveals about the meaning of space research in India through the allegorical figure of its protagonist, the non-resident Indian and earth remote sensing engineer.