Like most of the movies mentioned in our list of top ten flop Bollywood films which attained cult status over the years, ‘Swades’ too did not receive the kind of love it finds nowadays. Starring superstar Shah Rukh Khan and debutante Gayatri Joshi, the Ashutosh Gowariker directorial was released with much fanfare but, unfortunately, it could not amass much love and appreciation from the audience and critics and hence failed at the box office. Nevertheless, the movie found a new lease of life on television. After its theatrical release on 17th December, 2004, ‘Swades’ has seen many repeats on several movie channels and garnered huge TRPs for broadcasters. Today, it is considered one of the best films of Shah Rukh Khan’s career and has achieved a cult status over the years.
There were numerous factors which led to the dismal performances of the film at the box office. First of all was its unbearable length. The film was almost three hours long. After 2000’s multiplex culture was gaining momentum in India and audience was looking for films which were short and entertaining. ‘Swades’ failed at both parameters. Neither it was short nor was it thoroughly entertaining like regular masala potboilers of Bollywood. It was a film with a niche audience appeal.
Another reason behind its failure was the image Shah Rukh Khan carries as a superstar. A generation of cinema going audience has seen SRK as a romantic star. Another avatar of him the audience had familiarity with was his villainous avatar. But in ‘Swades’, Khan was seen in a totally different role. Here, he plays a scientist who works as a project manager at NASA in the United States before returning to his village and working for the elevation of his villagers. There was romance, but in bits and parts. In absence of a proper does of romance followed by an overstretched plot, the audience kept itself away from the film. However, it worked well with the TV audience because of being trimmed accordingly before its premiere on TV.