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Movie review: Bharat is let down by the weight of its own ambition

All 167 minutes of Bharat hinge on the premise of a father, on the verge of being separated from his family, making his 8-year-old son promise that he will always put his family before himself

  • Published 5.06.19, 6:16 PM
  • Updated 5.06.19, 9:42 PM
  • 4 mins read
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In Bharat, Zafar employs all the emotional hooks he can — family first, love for the country, friends like family, unconditional companionship, a nation’s tumultuous history mirrored in a man’s personal journey and separated siblings reunited after decades (Still from the movie)

Ode to My Father — the 2014 South Korean film riding high on filial ties and flag-waving patriotism that Bharat is an official adaptation of — is tailor-made for Bollywood. Bharat — Salman Khan’s potential Eid blockbuster for 2019 that reunites him with filmmaker Ali Abbas Zafar after their bonafide hits Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai — is a masterclass in melodrama that cranks up the emotion, nostalgia and sentimentality of the original by many notches.

In Bharat, Zafar employs all the emotional hooks he can — family first, love for the country, friends like family, unconditional companionship, a nation’s tumultuous history mirrored in a man’s personal journey and separated siblings reunited after decades. All the while, the film works in service of its superstar leading man — Salman, pushing 54, goes from age 30 to 70 without dropping a sweat and even piles on some muscles along the way. And while some of it feels heartfelt and genuine in a way that few films in the recent past have, in the end, Bharat turns out to be a film that’s let down by the weight of its own ambition.

All 167 minutes of Bharat hinge on the premise of a father, on the verge of being separated from his family, making his eight-year-old first-born promise that he will always put his family before himself.

The day is August 15, 1947 and with India on the cusp of a new beginning even as it tries to put the bloodied memories of Partition behind, the young boy, mother (Sonali Kulkarni) and twin siblings in tow, trudges over to the India side of the border to build a new life. The hope of being reunited with his father (played by an overdramatic Jackie Shroff) keeps him going through his growing-up years.

Like Ode to My Father, Bharat employs the interesting trope of mapping its protagonist’s story — he’s just Bharat (Salman) with no surname — with the changes taking place in a burgeoning India. In the same vein as Forrest Gump, Bharat is witness to momentous events in the country’s political and socio-economic fabric, even as he navigates through his personal crises. While this is a motif with potential, Zafar’s rendering of important dates in India’s history — the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, India lifting the 1983 cricket World Cup, a new era in the country’s economy brought about by liberalisation and globalisation to even the rise of Sachin Tendulkar and Shah Rukh Khan in the ’90s — serve more as markers and are not characterised by any effort on the director’s part to delve deep and lend them context or meaning.

A lot of Bharat is a montage of Bharat’s journey through various jobs — the feel is very distinctly Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Button here — that he takes up not only to support his family but also to discover himself and his purpose in life.

From a very young age, forced as he was by circumstances to grow up in a hurry, Bharat is an idealistic man with rock-solid beliefs. “Izzat” and “imaandaari” are the principles he lives by and that makes him flit from one odd job to another. So at one moment he is an Elvis Presley lookalike performing daredevil well-of-death stunts in a circus in the 1960s and shaking a leg with his first love Radha (Disha Patani in a strictly dispensable part) and at another, he wings his way off to the Middle East to work in the oil fields.

Along the way, he rescues his fellow workers from a gas mine and takes on a gang of sea pirates while serving out in the sea. While some of it is entertaining — Bharat’s constant comrade is his childhood pal Vilayati (Sunil Grover) and the chemistry between the two powers most of the film — the lack of any genuine conflict means that the film feels way longer than its 167 minutes. Songs and scenes are tacked on unnecessarily, including a number to show off Nora Fatehi’s belly moves in Malta.

Bharat strictly works through sentimentality and while some of the emotional scenes are well done — a TV show that attempts to reunite families torn apart by Partition will make even the stone-cold teary eyed even when one knows one is being played — quite a bit of it comes off as mawkish, especially when Zafar overstretches any given emotion to snapping point. A message of resolution instead of revenge, that also characterises the director’s recent films, makes its way here and there’s also a scene where the full national anthem is sung.

What makes Bharat work is its humour, especially in Half One, and it’s the lighter moments that are the best-written parts of the film. While most of it is courtesy Sunil Grover’s deadpan antics — a scene involving Vilayati, his underwear and a pedestal fan is a hoot — Salman, too, contributes to the film’s genuine laughs. Watch out for that scene where he packs off a gang of pirates after bonding with them on Amitabh Bachchan’s songs!

The other big #win is the easy chemistry between Salman and Katrina Kaif, who plays the feisty and foxy Kumud. Katrina, who was easily the best thing about Zero, is also very good in Bharat, bringing a sparkle to some of the dullest scenes. The crinkled hair may be an unnecessary distraction, but Katrina owns her character, especially in her later scenes with a greying Salman. The chemistry between the two in the twilight years of their lives is bittersweet, characterised by a mutual off-screen comfort that shows up on screen, a feeling of familiarity built and retained over the years and lines that roll of their tongues organically.

But this is a Salman Khan show and while we have seen all of it from the man before — and seen it better, if we may add — it’s a 70-year-old bearded and bespectacled Salman that remains with you long after you exit Bharat. “Yeh sher boodha zaroor ho gaya hai lekin shikaar karna bhula nahin,” he growls in one scene as he pummels a gang of goons. Enough to get the fandom to its feet... and yes, roar!


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