Govinda has been quoted as saying that of all his films, the only ones he truly likes are Hatya (about which I'll write something in the next few days) and Swarg. I actually dealt with Swarg rather extensively on Episode 14 of the podcast, so I would encourage you to take a listen to that, but I had a request from commenter Suhan S to review the film, and since I know the podcast and the blog have mostly different audiences (with a little overlap), I thought perhaps I'd write a little bit here about it as well.
I think it's quite likely that Swarg's themes -- including duty, family, respect for the mother -- are part of why this film rates as one of Govinda's two favorites. They're themes that come up time and again in his interviews, and from what little I know of the man, they're themes that seem important to him.
I won't say that his performance in Swarg is his best -- but it is certainly up there as one of the better ones in his filmography.
La Vanessa wrote an interesting review of the David Dhawan directed, Govinda (and Salman Khan) starring film Partner a while back, in which she described coming to terms with the trademark Dhawan comedy style after first seeing Govinda first in Salaam-e-Ishq, and I think that one of the reasons I think Swarg is an important film to watch is that it's a perfect reminder that both Dhawan and Govinda have done a broader range of films than perhaps either of their filmographies might otherwise lead you to believe.
Don't get me wrong -- Swarg is not a great film. It is, however, a well-constructed, entertaining family drama, that works both because of the immense talent of the great actor Rajesh Khanna, combined with the light-hearted charm, as well as the depth, of Govinda's performance. It is a big, sweeping melodrama, with lots of twists and turns, and that, too, before such a thing was even a twinkle in KJo's eyes. In all honesty, this type of melodrama is generally not my tasse of chai, but Swarg is a film I come back to again and again, and not just for Govinda. (Really.)
Govinda plays Krishna, the family servant, who was an orphan child that Kumar Sahib (Khanna) brought into his household. More than a mere servant, though, Kumar Sahib considers Krishna like a brother, so important is he in the life of he household. Each member of the family, says Kumar Sahib, is like a pearl, and Krishna is the string that connects them.
Krishna, however, dreams of being more than a servant -- he wants to become an actor, a dream the members of the household indulge him in, probably never really believing it will actually be anything more than the dream of the devoted servant willing to give his life to protect the honour of the household, and in particular the honour of its younger sister, Jyoti (played by the lovely and talented Juhi Chawla).
Krishna is always honing his acting talents, and one of the film's songs gives him an opportunity to show them off. Jyoti and her friends want to go to see Amitabh Bachchan's latest film, Don, and send Krishna to buy tickets. The house is full, though, so instead, Krishna offers them up his versions of filmi heroes (including a nod to Don's "Khaike Paan Banaras Wala", a tip of the hat to Raj Kapoor, and a bit of Hot Papa Khanna playing the accordian in Amar, Akbar, Anthony):
One of the things that strikes me about the film is how it uses the strengths of its two stars, Rajesh Khanna and Govinda. In the first half of the film, Kumar Sahib (Khanna) is a successful businessman, a risk-taker, someone at the top of his game. He has everything, and even his body language oozes confidence. Krishna (Govinda) is his servant, a man who has a place, and who is helpless to do much but dream of a different future for himself.
Kumar Sahib's fortunes change, and as he begins, slowly, to lose everything he has, gradually he becomes more and more helpless, unable to act. He becomes bent, and broken, and ill, and the last action he is able to take himself is to make sure that Krishna doesn't remain stuck in the household, that he doesn't get sucked down with him as his fortunes fail. Krishna, the faithful servant, would never have left unless he'd been thrown out, but once his hand is forced, then Krishna, finally, is forced to take his fate into his hands and become, finally, an active participant in his destiny.
And this, I think, is the key to the film, at least for me: this ensures that Krishna -- who takes off for Mumbai, and ends up working in the film industry as a spot boy, thanks to an incredible bit of luck -- well, it ensures that Krishna, and thus Govinda, has rather more to do in the second half of the film than he does in the first.
And here is where we find yet another one of those gems of a performance from Govinda. As Krishna, he overcomes difficulties through hard work and with more than a little luck.
One of the charms, for me, about Swarg is that there is an unabashed love of films that is scattered throughout: Krishna the would-be actor, of course, provides the opportuntity to sprinkle references and imitations throughout the film. As I mentioned, the film Krishna fails to get tickets for is the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Don, and at one point, Krishna dreams he is the hero in the fight scene from Deewaar, which is a perfect opportunity to be reminded that in his early films, Govinda was actually very good at the fight scenes.
(My theory is that fight scenes are just choreography and knowing how to move, and this is something Govinda just does naturally as a dancer, anyway, so why not as a fighter, too?)
Krishna's whole purpose in life, though, is to make enough money to try to pay off his master's debts to help him out, and when he's not able to just working behind the scenes in the movies, he prays to God to help him. And, in another nice self-referential touch, it's while he's working as a spot-boy on this film:
That he finally gets his big break as an actor. Krishna gets a chance to replace the Big Star who can't remember his lines and is pulling a total diva act, and he delivers a ripping performance that causes the director to realize he's discovered a new star. More self-reference, as Govinda's own filmography is used to show us the series of hits Krishna has starred in, and then the film ends with Krishna seeking revenge for everything that has happened to his beloved master, Kumar Sahib.
What I love about Swarg is that it shows us a Govinda who is a well-rounded performer, a very good actor capable of standing up next to a star like Rajesh Khanna, and capable of carrying a film on his own. Swarg is a film that reminds us why Rajesh Khanna was Indian cinema's first superstar, but truly, in the end, Swarg is a film that clearly belongs to the very talented Govinda.
As Krishna, Govinda navigates the twists and turns and ups and downs of the melodrama, and I think I'd say that the songs/dances in this film are amongst some of my favorites. I might even be willing to argue that Swarg shows us a Govinda who had the potential to become a great filmi hero, though it's clearly a potential that he's never managed to capitalize on (and I say that as someone who loves him to bits).
Yes, indeed, you do, and it's called Hatya. Saving what may be the best for last.