The top spot for the ultimate back-to-roots tearjerker aimed at persuading immigrant Indians to burn their passports and take the first flight back home was reserved for Chithi Aai Hai from Naam (1986). Until Swades (2004 and Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera came along.
Ashutosh Gowariker’s acclaimed film traces the life of lonely NASA project manager Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan), who visits India to take back his childhood caretaker Kaveri (Kishori Ballal) to the United States. Mohan falls in love with Geeta (Gayatri Joshi) and gets involved with the various problems facing his village, including caste discrimination and grinding poverty.
Mohan returns to the US, and is followed by AR Rahman’s delicately composed shehnai-laced tune and Javed Akhtar’s lyrics. While working on a project, the sight of a map of India in passing sparks off memories of the warmth and want he has left behind. The cutting pattern between Mohan’s present and his immediate past expresses his emotional state. As Mohan strolls through an impeccably mowed lawn, the camera cuts to the barren paddy field back in India. When he places his feet onto a cold floor, his legs dip into the river back home.
Movingly sung by Rahman, the song reflects Mohan’s inability to forget all that he has seen. “Tu chahe kahin jaaye, tu laut ae aayega,” Akhtar writes, reflecting the churn inside Mohan’s heart.
In a dialogue interjection, Mohan’s irate friend blatantly calls him “stupidly romantic” for wanting to leave all that he has worked for to go back to a small village, somewhere also echoing the cynic in us. With an indifferent yet telling stare, Mohan silences him, and the track resumes.
Khan has a fair share of nationalistic songs to his name, including the title track of Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000) and Aisa Des Hai Mera from Veer Zaara (2004). But it is the amiable non-resident Indian Mohan Bhargava from Florida who manages to make the heart the heaviest.