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Bharat review: This Salman Khan vehicle is a confused effort

Release Date: 05 Jun 2019 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 47min

Read in: Marathi

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Keyur Seta

The fim, written and directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, is neither a useful chronicle of recent Indian history nor an entertainer.

Director Ali Abbas Zafar’s Bharat is adapted from the Korean drama Ode To My Father (2014). The makers have been claiming that the film tells the story of a man named Bharat, played by Salman Khan, and the country 'India that is Bharat’ simultaneously from 1947 till 2010.

The film starts off during the Partition of 1947 when eight-year-old Bharat is trying to escape from Lahore to Amritsar in a jam-packed train with his father (Jackie Shroff), mother (Sonali Kulkarni) and two younger sisters. However, his father and one of the younger sisters Gudiya are left behind. 

A dispirited Bharat arrives in Amritsar with the hope of finding his lost father and sister some day. His father had asked him to take care of the family till he returns and Bharat sets about following his father’s instruction religiously. 

Bharat boasts of rich production design by Rajnish Hedao, which is also quite authentic for all the periods of post-Independence India that it presents, especially the turbulent period of Partition. And while you might think not much work is needed to recreate 2010, a lot has changed in these past nine years and Hedao and his team have taken care to ensure that 2010 does not look like 2019.

After experiencing the trauma of Partition at the outset with young Bharat, one expects the film to continue to highlight important historical events through the eyes of the fictional individual. But, strangely, Bharat hardly bothers with the country's history thereafter, except for India’s victory in the 1983 cricket World Cup and passing references to the death of first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the liberalization kicked off in 1991 by then finance minister Manmohan Singh.

To be fair, the film is similarly disconnected with the story of its principal human character, Bharat. There is lack of a clear aim and conflict in his journey too. One might turn around and say the film is but a lost-and-found saga revolving around Partition and this angle does move you on a couple of occasions, but the track remains on the margins mostly.

Instead, we are presented with sequences, situations and characters that are irrelevant to the main plot. For example, the scene where a cruise is attacked by African pirates appears unnecessary.

However, let us not forget that this film is a Salman Khan vehicle. Diehard 'Bhai' fans can forgive all such issues in return for some wolf-whistling entertainment. And the film is peppered with some masala in the form of romance and humour. But Bharat is, at best, only mildly entertaining. The masala elements aren’t enjoyable enough to keep you happy and engaged for the long runtime of 167 minutes. 

It is no surprise that Bharat has Salman Khan in almost every frame. He carries the film on his shoulders with his undoubted screen presence. But he struggles to emote, both through body language and dialogues, while playing a 70-year-old. Funnily, he appears old when the character is in his 30s and young when in his 70s! And, by the way, in his 50s he claims he has never beaten up anyone ever, but easily thrashes a bunch of rogues on bikes when he is 70! Revital ka kamaal, eh?

There is also some confusion on Bharat's age relative to other characters. As kids, Disha Patani’s character looks slightly older to the child Bharat. But, of course, in the grown-up phase, the makeup department has been unable to prevent Bharat appearing way older than Patani (who essays just a cameo).

Katrina Kaif does better than what you have seen from her in other films but looks out of place as a senior citizen. This is where you miss Priyanka Chopra and wish she hadn’t walked out of the film as she would certainly have been more convincing. Sunil Grover is impressive as Bharat's constant pillar of strength and support while Sonali Kulkarni and Jackie Shroff are adequate for their parts.

Despite the disjointed plot, Ali Abbas Zafar’s handling makes the film watchable. The filmmaker has already proved his mettle with films like Sultan (2016) and Tiger Zinda Hai (2017). But even his magic can work only up to an extent if the writing itself is flawed. Unfortunately, Zafar has no one to blame for it but himself, since he also wrote the film.


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