Swades is a simple story of Mohan who lives in the USA and works at NASA. He has achieved great success but feels lonely and often remembers Kaveri Amma, his nanny who became equivalent to his mother. He visits her in India and he discovers his true connection to his native land and country.
The story of Swades starts in the USA where Mohan has all the luxuries and comforts that he wants in life. When he arrives in Delhi to find Kaveri Amma, he discovers that she has shifted to a village named Charanpur. He decides to go there and gets a caravan in order to equip himself for any discomfort in the village.
The very first encounter of the audience with the caravan is when Mohan is driving it and asks a fakir the address of the village. The fakir becomes the perfect embodiment of India that has entered the caravan, which is like a representation of the USA. We see a perfect jugalbandi between the western music being played in the caravan radio, the fakir singing and talking about Indian philosophy, and Mohan adding his own touch to the song. This trichotomy is perfectly the representation of the mindset of Mohan: he wants to stay in the USA, have an Indian connection and philosophy in life, while retaining his native traditions and thoughts. He becomes the perfect fusion of western and Indian ideology.
As he enters the village, he has to manoeuvre his way to Kaveri Amma’s house and he causes some inconvenience to the villagers for which he apologises. He reaches Kaveri Amma’s house and meets with everyone. Kaveri Amma and Geeta (Mohan’s childhood friend) arrange a bed for him and make his sleeping arrangements but he mentions that he would rather stay and sleep in his caravan. This is the first perfect instance of how he prefers the comfort and the luxury of the caravan and comfortable bed of it to the charpai of the house. The next morning, he takes a shower in the caravan itself. These parts of the movie perfectly symbolise how the caravan is his affinity to the USA. It is his desire to be connected to the USA and avail of facilities and luxuries that the caravan represents.
Gradually, Mohan starts getting acquainted with the ways and methods of the village. He is sleeping blissfully on the charpai when a family comes to make a potential match for Geeta and arrange their marriage. This is the first shift from sleeping on the bed of the caravan to the charpai of the house. This is the first evidence of his connection to the village and the seed of his attachment to it. Mohan then becomes comfortable with the traditional way of bathing directly by taking a bucket of water from the well.
However, Mohan’s inclination and affinity towards the USA has reduced but not completely vanished. He is never seen doing his work anywhere but in his caravan. He might have accepted the village as his home and the place to live but the place to work and succeed in his life will always be the caravan. He makes presentations or researches about things in the caravan on his laptop.
A major shift in the movie is his trip to Kodi where he goes to collect rent from a farmer. He stays at the farmer’s place and sleeps on the charpai under the stars. Additionally, it is here that he witnesses the true India. He travels by train, boat, and by bus. The caravan is left behind and he comes closer to the real India. This is highly symbolic as he has finally left every trace of his attachment to the USA. The journey is not only the symbolic journey to the real India but also the realisation that he has been extremely privileged to enjoy all the facilities he has and, more importantly, he has the capability and the potential to make a difference in people’s lives and make it much better than it is.
His return from Kodi is perfectly symbolised as an internal conflict that is picturised in the caravan. He is internally touched and shattered by seeing the extent of poverty and helplessness that people are experiencing in his country. He feels this in the caravan, which is the embodiment of the USA. The conflict becomes supremely powerful and he goes through an internal transformation to do something for his country’s people.
What follows are his efforts to bring electricity to the village. He works day and night to bring this change. Interestingly, the caravan becomes the point of connection between the village and the place where the river is situated. Symbolically, it is now connecting Mohan to India even in work matters, which was something that did not happen before. Interestingly, he uses the calculator while Geeta is extremely fluent in calculations and instantly answers in seconds before the calculator. This scene is shot in the caravan. The caravan becomes the place of bubbling emotions and also a ‘Kaarwan’, meaning a group of people who are trying to do something together. Mohan has brought the USA to them and developed the village in its own flavour.
The last and the most striking part is Mohan’s return to the USA. Mohan returns to Delhi in his caravan and says goodbye to everyone. Kaveri Amma and Geeta try to convince him to stay but they fail. Geeta gives him a box of Indian spices and Indian soil which he takes back to the USA. He successfully completes the project he was working on at NASA but he never feels connected there. The box of spices replaces the caravan here. If the caravan was the USA in Charanpur, the box becomes India in the USA. He looks at the box and cherishes the memories and drowns in nostalgia. Finally, he decides to leave the US and return to India permanently. He also decides to work at Vikram Sarabhai space centre, meaning he lets go of his last thing that made him stay in US: work. He returns to Charanpur and settles there, this time without the caravan – symbolising that his ties to the USA have been reduced to the bare minimum and he is better connected to his native land.
Thus, the caravan becomes a very important character in the movie. It is the place of an external change and internal growth when it becomes instrumental in giving the village its own hydroelectric power plant. The caravan perfectly shows the attachment to the USA in Mohan, and becomes a mini USA that Mohan lives in first and leaves after.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.