As you know, I’m a big fan of Indian Bollywood movies, and last night was the premiere of Swades, the latest film from Oscar-nominated director Ashutosh Gowariker (Lagaan), starring Shahrukh Khan (think of him as the Bollywood equivalent to, say, Tom Cruise/Hanks). When we arrived, the theater was packed. The last empty seat in the house went to MIT Professor of Comparative Media Studies Henry Jenkins (also Housemaster of the the Senior House dormitory), who snuck in just as the film began. I didn’t get a chance to talk with him, but as he was leaving I heard his one-line summary of the film:
“It was a geeky, MIT-type of film.”
In many ways, he was right on. The film centered on Shahrukh Khan’s character Mohan, who was born and raised in India but for the past decade or so had worked as a project manager for NASA. He goes back to rural India to a village with very spotty electricity, one phone, little emphasis on education. The dramatic climax of the movie, in true MIT style, is Mohan’s attempt to get a turbine to generate electricity for the village — can it get up to the magic number of 230 Volts?
The best parts of the film reminded me of MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow Amy Smith’s International Development Initiative class called D-Lab (aka SP.721), which, among many other places, goes to India. It is through initiatives like D-Lab or the IDEAS competition that MIT lives out its mission of improving the world through science and technology.
One of the biggest reasons I turned down a job on Wall Street to work at MIT is because MIT’s mission inspires me. We are making a difference.
Oh, and by the way, the movie was great. Gowariker again has made a film with real meaning, and stocks it with a more interesting cast of characters than in many films. And composer A. R. Rahman had a pretty good score (as you may know, Bollywood films are usually musicals), as usual. If you live in an area with a large South Asian population, you may be able to see it in your region — check it out!