All the cues described in the post can be heard in the playlist embedded at the end of the post
Is AGPPL (Ashutosh Gowariker Productions Private Limited) the only film production company in India, in the films of which, the company’s logo appears in a colour and graphic design that is reflective of the subject matter of the film? For Jodhaa Akbar, Ashutosh painted AGPPL in glittering gold against a silky red carpet; for Swades, it is all black and white. In the world that Ashutosh paints in Swades, there is no place for grey. Moreover, even the music that accompanies the logo when it appears in the beginning of the opening credits of the film is not constant. There is no fixed musical theme for AGPPL. In Swades, a Synth flute piece evoking a mysterious sound that is used in one of the most pivotal moments of the film is chosen as the theme for AGPPL. It is a fascinating choice, for two reasons. One, practically, this short piece of music perfectly fits the length of the footage of the introduction of AGPPL’s logo in the opening credits, two - to use a musical theme that plays in a critical moment in the film and hint at the narrative hinge-point or hook of the film.
Or, simply, it could be just a random choice of a piece of music that fits the length of the AGPPL Intro footage. But, do you remember, in American Pie, the music that plays when the Universal Pictures appear first on screen is the funky bass guitar piece that is used when Jim looks at an Apple Pie in his house, just after knowing from his friends what a third base feels like. Even, in recent English Vinglish, the theme that plays over Hope (you like the file) Productions is the theme that plays when finally Sashi gives a speech in English. So, I want to believe that there is some thought process behind choosing music for Intro music, and it is not a random choice.
AGPPL logo gets a theme that is used in those episodes of the film in which the problems thus far existed in the story gets solved and a new stage is set for a new problem. Gita (Gayatri Joshi) wants Kaveriamma to stay in India. Mohan (Shahrukh Khan), on the other side, wants to take her along with him to America. Kaveriamma is confused. Just after the intermission, there is a scene (which is not in the theatrical version of the film but it is available in deleted scenes section of the DVD), in which Kaveriamma (Kishori Balal) discusses with one of her neighbours about her dilemma and the difficult decision that she has to make. Kaveriamma is unable to decide on what to do. Kaveriamma’s friend gives her an advice, which sparks an idea in Kaveriamma’s mind.
Rahman plays the music theme that was played for AGPPL logo, in its entirety for the first time within the film, when Kaveriamma is beginning to contemplate about implementing the idea. Kaveriamma asks Mohan Bharghav to go to a village and collect money from Haridas, a farmer. Mohan asks Kaveriamma about her decision on coming with him to America. Kaveriamma replies that she would decide once he completes this task, thereby throwing a clever hook on Mohan. Rahman also uses his hook on Mohan, by playing the theme precisely when Kaveriamma gives a mysterious reply that links her decision with the completion of the task given to Mohan. When bewildered Gita asks why she is sending Mohan to meet Haridas, Kaveriamma says that she knows what she is doing. Rahman adds to the mystery with the theme continuously playing in here too. The musical hook used for Kaveriamma’s shrewd move, which is going to lead Mohan to a life-altering moment in his life, is the same hook that Rahman plays for AGPPL in the very beginning.
Gita, after calling Mohan names like NRI (Non Returning Indian), walks in to see Kaveriamma sneakily watching he quarrel with Mohan, and yet pretend as if she hasn’t noticed anything. After Gita leaves, Kaveriamma heaves a sigh of relief because she has found another way to make Mohan stay in India, and diligently Rahman adds a musical nod by playing the Synth flute piece again in here.
Ashutosh Gowariker asks a composer for title music (the music that plays in the opening credits of the film), much in advance, even while composing songs for the film (Got to know this from Satyajit Batkal’s book on making of Lagaan called “Spirit of Lagaan”). Rahman and Ashutosh did it for Lagaan, and they did it again in Swades. The Swades title theme is one of the catchiest title theme music pieces an Indian film has ever had, so much so that Rahman could convince even a Danny Boyle to use the theme as the ring tone of Salim’s mobile phone throughout the film Slumdog Millionaire.
The instantly addictive rhythm fades in first and grabs our attention. An arresting Accordion melody bounces out of nowhere, and with the pounding rhythm, the music as a whole makes us excited, lights up our spirit and lifts up the curtains for the title card "Swades – We the People" to appear. Despite composing music for so many years, only a Rahman can still evoke this feel, among even his worst critics. In a little while, strings and flute join in, playing their own tweaked, staccato versions of the theme along with the Accordion. When Mohan wakes up and passionately looks at the aerial view of India, Rahman seamlessly blends the endearing ‘Hey Hey’ motif of Yeh Tara Woh Tara song along with the title music. The introduction of a totally different melody in the middle of the title music is to underline the mild shift in Mohan’s mood when he looks out through the window. Playing the ‘Hey Hey’ melody in Accordion instead of using original Udit Narayan’s version is to keep its musical flavour in sync with that of the title music, and also not to draw too much attention on to the fact that the composer is trying to underline the mood shift through his music.
Rahman gives a hefty purpose to this catchy title theme by playing it in different forms in the scenes where Mohan progresses in making a change in the lives of the villagers. It continues to play in the background, in all those scenes, in which Mohan goes to each and every villager’s house, to request them to send their kids to school. It turns mellow on strings and plays to the sympathy of Mohan when he gets angry at villagers, whom talk so proudly about India’s culture and tradition. It also plays in the scene where the villagers begin to construct the reservoir of the mini Hydro-electric power plant.
A mini hydro-electric power plant to generate electricity for Charanpur is fully erected. Mohan asks Mela Ram, who is standing next to the valve near the reservoir, to open the valve, to allow the water to rush into the turbine. The water rushes. The voltage rises, and when it is about to reach 230 Volts, it suddenly drops down. Water is not flowing with enough pressure to the turbine. The outlet of the reservoir is blocked. Mohan rushes up to the reservoir, dives into it and removes the blockage. It is the one last difficulty that Mohan puts himself through to enrich the lives of villagers, and Rahman faithfully brings the title theme back and plays it in its original form for this blockage-removal episode.
In the final act of the film, in which Mohan Bharghav successfully generates electricity and lights a bulb, it is Rahman’s background score that pumps in the rhythm and energy in the visuals. With such a dry and academic subject matter like power generation, without Rahman’s score, Ashutosh would have had a tough time in keeping up the pace and interest of the audience in those final episodes. Probably, Ashutosh might have told this to Rahman, and hence Rahman plays quite loudly in these scenes.
When Mohan enters Charanpur driving his huge caravan, an exhilarating piece of music, a song that begins with dominant kids chorus singing ‘Aayo Re’ plays for Mohan’s excitement in meeting Kaveriamma after so many years. The innate innocence in the vocals of the Kids harmony, a melody seeped in longing, excitement, euphoria, the restless folk rhythms and ethnic percussions, intriguing layers of flute and soaring strings converge to create an exotic symphony in ‘Aayo Re’. However, the piece gets its real due and meaning only when used in the climax.
When John (Mohan’s Boss at NASA) says Mohan that he could have gone places, Mohan with a quiet confidence, replies ‘I am going places’. John, after a pause, says, "Alright Mohan. Go light your bulb". There comes the goose-fleshy moment of the film brilliantly aided by the background score. Rahman lights up the smile that rises on Mohan’s face with the kids’ chorus beginning to sing ‘Aayo Re’ again. Cut to - A Landing plane. The music continues. The camera moves as if it is placed on the nose of the landing plane and it zooms into the Charanpur Temple grounds where Postman (Rajesh Vivek) and Mohan are wrestling. While, in the beginning, the music was for Mohan’s excitement, it is only now the piece finds its real purpose. All the multiple layers of sound, instruments and choral parts are justified as if the whole village or rather India is singing a warm and euphoric welcome for Mohan.
Rahman seems to get intrigued by the thought of an NRI coming back to India. Even in Delhi-6, Rahman does something similar with a short melody on Santoor. The sound and the pace of hammering the Santoor strings are apt, and instantly bring a native aura, when Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) lands in India. However, only when we hear Rahman playing the same theme again in the end of the film for Roshan coming back to life from an after-death experience, we realize what Rahman was trying to imply musically, when he used the same piece for Roshan’s return to India.
Typical of all Ashutosh’s films, there are many small characters, playing meaty parts in the film and all of them get a thematic, musical nod from Rahman. The ever enthusiastic Mela Ram (Daya Shankar Pandey) gets a funky Bhangra-rap song for his idea of opening a Dhaba in partnership with Mohan at Freeways in America. The Postman of the village is an enthusiastic learner. He gets a piece with catchy bass line and a rhythm that ticks in sync with his energy and enthusiasm. The melodramatic instrumental version of Aahistha Aahistha song fills Kaveriamma’s sentimental scenes with Mohan. Even NASA, for all the machinery and high-technology ambience of it, gets a peppy techno track, with no trace of any real instruments anywhere in the piece. An exotic Saxophone plays leisurely in the background announcing the high life and luxury of Mohan in America, while he with his friend, returns back to his house, after a typical day of work at NASA. Surprisingly, the same Saxophone theme reprises again like a secondary love theme between Mohan and Gita in the later part of the film.
The fun, playfulness and the childish innocence prevalent in some of the scenes are underscored by a common musical theme with Rahman’s typical pizzicato strings. It plays when Mohan, like a kid, closes Kaveriamma’s eyes from behind, and quizzes her to tell who he is. It chirps when Chikku (Master Smith Seth), on Kaveriamma’s instruction, does not allow Mohan to get inside the house. It smiles when Kaveriamma introduces Chikku to Mohan as Gita’s younger brother, who has lied of having a stomach ache to bunk the school today. It plays when Chikku refuses to come closer to Mohan. It giggles when Kaveriamma asks Mohan about Nashaa job - misspelling NASA as Nashaa (in Hindi). It creates a sweet, innocent clamour when a group of excited kids enter and start to play around in Mohan’s caravan.
Mohan meets Gita for the first time in a book shop. Typical of Indian films, it is love at first sight for Mohan. Mohan, who is already impressed by Gita’s philosophy, is stunned by Gita's beauty, when he sees Gita descending down the stairs. In the scene in which a family comes to see Gita with a marriage proposal, Gita stuns Mohan yet again when she comes out of her room wearing a gorgeous Sari. In these scenes, Rahman makes her look more gorgeous than what she is with that serene Santoor postlude of the song Saawariya Saawariya.
The romantic ballad Dekho Na is the least appreciated song of the film and yet its melody is the most recurring musical theme in the film. It must be one of Rahman’s most favourite melodies. As the melody remained underrated in its Tamil version Baba Kichu Kichu Thaa from the Tamil film Baba, Rahman gave the melody a new life again by ornamenting it with a refreshing orchestration in Dekho Na. Rahman uses this melody throughout the film for all lighter, romantic moments between Mohan and Gita in the film.
After already having fallen for her classic beauty, Mohan, sitting at the cash counter of the book shop, has his first conversation with Gita. While Mohan uses a calculator to prepare the bill for books that Gita is buying from the store, Gita instantly calculates the amount in her mind and tells him the numbers before he finishes pressing buttons on the calculator. Mohan is impressed. First time, when Gita tells him the right figures, there is no music, but the second time when Gita says 637; Rahman introduces the bass riff of the song Dekho Na, because it is the second time that Mohan is mighty impressed. When finally Gita leaves without taking her balance amount back, Mohan runs out to give the money to her but Rahman allows Alka Yagnik to hum a sweet phrase in the background, to suggest that maybe Mohan’s run is not just to return the balance money.
Mohan and Gita meet again in Charanpur School. Mohan is surprised to see Gita as a teacher and also as the caretaker of Kaveriamma in Charanpur. While Rahman made us hear only the bass riff and layers of the song Dekho Na in their first meeting, he gently plays the complete main melody of the song on a Piano in this scene, because it is now Mohan knows who Gita is, giving a whole new chance for his instant attraction towards Gita to go to the next level.
Gita comes back home and opens the door, slamming it on Mohan’s back, without knowing that he is standing behind the door. In the accident, Gita’s books fall down. Mohan picks the books, and returns it to Gita but halfway through, takes it back, cleans the dust off, pays respect to the book as a teasing reaction to the philosophy that Gita was giving to someone in the earlier scene about the books, in the book shop. Rahman helps the audience in understanding the connection and the subtle humour better by playing the Dekho Na theme again here.
Kaveriamma, Gita and the kids come to have a look at the interiors of Mohan’s Caravan. Mohan’s Marlboro Cigarette packet is on the table. He wants to hide it from Kaveriamma. Mohan and Gita, silently, through their eyes, have a cute conversation, in which Mohan pleads Gita to hide the Cigarette pack. Gita hides the pack and Mohan thanks her. Rahman’s Dekho Na theme makes the chemistry between Mohan and Gita, the cute looks, and sweet conversation in this scene, lighter, livelier and sweeter. There is no romance in this scene, yet there is a sense of authority with which Gita looks at Mohan and the ease with which they interact and understand each other - Rahman’s music here is trying to underpin that ease and comfort.
A family comes to Kaveriamma’s house to see Gita and fix the marriage of their son with Gita. It is in here Rahman uses the Dekho Na theme to the best, boldly announcing that Mohan is indeed in love with Gita. As the talks are going on inside the house, Mohan who does not want this proposal to happen goes out to have a tension relieving smoke. Strings, curiously bowed in their lower registers, further stirs up the tension in the moment. Mohan turns back to see Gita standing and talking to everyone in an intense tone and posture. On hearing Gita’s refusal for the marriage proposal, Mohan feels totally relieved. Rahman begins to play the Dekho Na theme loudly and happily here, adding to the euphoria of Mohan who is greeting each of the members of the visiting family with a smile. The real punch comes at the end when Mohan swivels around the pillar and raises his hand as a sign of victory, and it is in here Rahman plays a triumphant rock guitar coda to the music cue and the scene.
Mohan decides to help Gita in getting Kids to join the school. He goes to meet the head of the village, asking him to send his daughters to school. While trying to convince him, Mohan starts talking about why education is essential for girl children and uses exactly the same words that Gita spoke about a woman on the other day while refusing the marriage proposal. In an Ashutosh Gowariker film, spoon feeding is obvious, and for his part, Rahman too helps the cause. In this scene, while Ashutosh makes his point clear by making Mohan look down and show Mohan recollecting the exact words of Gita, Rahman subtly plays the Dekho Na theme to make it easier for us to understand that Mohan is indeed borrowing the lines of Gita. It is one of those quintessential clichés of background scores in Indian films, used quite convincingly in this film too.
Rahman uses a transcendental flute piece, serene and pure in its sound, when more kids come and join Gita’s school. This flute piece is first played when Mohan explains and shows how to connect the stars in the sky and make shapes out of it, to entertain the villagers, who have gathered to watch Yaadon Ki Bharath. The philosophy behind the stars episode, the song Yeh Tara Woh Tara are all to impress upon the villagers about sending the kids to school without any bias or prejudice about gender, caste or creed. Rahman links in this sequence and its consequence with the same piece, implying that because of that (his philosophy about stars and shapes), this (Kids of all castes joining the same school) happened.
The hinge moment of the film is when Mohan travels on Indian roads, rails and waters, sitting next to ordinary Indian people, to go to an interior village and meet a poor farmer - Haridas. The whole journey and his meeting with farmer stir a storm in his conscience. While Haridas speaks about his situation, Rahman bows the high registers of a solo Saarangi, to make us sympathize with the ache of Haridas. Rahman plays ‘Hey Hey’ theme from Yeh Tara song on a Solo flute, disturbing Mohan, who is staring at the Half moon in the night sky and contemplating about Haridas’s situation, and is asking himself about what he is going to do now. A strong bass is sustained as Mohan leaves Haridas’s village with a heavy heart. The bass deepens and continues until, the ‘Hey Hey’ arouses loudly on an orchestra, intensifying the thoughts of Mohan, who is now sailing on the boat in his trip back to Charanpur.
Cut to – Aerial shot of a train running. We know Mohan is travelling in that train. We are yet to see him, but Rahman creates a big turbulence in the air, with his strings, to sound the various thoughts that are clamouring in Mohan’s head and making him feel extremely guilty. Train stops in a railway station. Rahman pauses. A boy is selling water in the railway station. Strings slowly rise when Mohan decides to buy a glass of water from that boy, and it sustains a sublime cry when Mohan, for the first time, drinks Indian water from a clay cup. When Mohan breaks out with tears, the orchestra screams out the melody from the second stanza of the song Yeh Jo Desh hai Tera to Mohan, sowing the first seed of thought in Mohan’s mind, about the situation in India that badly needs his help. The usage of the melody of Yeh Jo Desh hai Tera in this scene is a master stroke. It is this song of nostalgia that finally brings Mohan back to India. With Rahman’s orchestral scream resuming in the background, Ashutosh slowly moves out of the window from Mohan’s close-up shot to that poignant aerial shot of Train departing from the station with the kid still standing there on the platform, counting the coins and waiting for the next train to arrive.
Happy Independence Day!
Listen to 54 Voiceless HQ Cues from Swades Background Score here. Running Time: 82 Minutes.