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‘Bharat’ film review: Treat for Salman Khan fans, let-down for movie buffs

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Salman Khan fans have all the necessary reasons to be happy. One-hundred-and-fifty-five minutes of flashbacks, dialogues, friendship, romance, comedy, dance, family, weddings, fights, saving children, different meanings of patriotism (mostly flawed) and a continuous background music using one specific line repeatedly to spark similar emotions at this magnum opus — everything sums up the last decade of Salman Khan filmography, together.

Bharat — the movie — is the story of Bharat (Salman Khan), a 70-year-old (young) man living with his family in the Old Delhi area of the capital. He and his friend, Vilayti Khan (Sunil Grover), are shown to manage a shop, which Bharat owns. It’s his birthday (on the same day as the Independence Day) and the entire family is heading up to perform an annual birthday tradition. What follows is a series of flashbacks — starting from the tragedy that all the character depth in the movie is directly based on. Trains, bloodshed, people, family — partition gives Bharat a memory and a truth that will haunt him for life.

 

A multi-directional and more than adventurous life sees Bharat and his friend from refugee days — Vilayti — go through performing stunts in the circus, working in oil digging reserves, risking their life as marines, all the while maintaining efforts to find those lost in ’47. Amidst all this is also Bharat establishing a romantic relationship with Kumud Raina (Katrina Kaif) – his senior in Arabia.

Under this layer of a timeline of achievements and right-doings, Bharat’s narration tries to connect us with the history of post-independence India. All credit to the adaptation — Ode to My Father (2014) — and the intent of whoever first through to create something similar in the Indian context. This Forrest-Gump-esqe effort could have been definitive, but intent. That is a cruel word.

Diwali celebrations in Arabia where Bharat and his team don’t have enough food to eat, an elaborate wedding — which really didn’t seem affordable ten minutes ago, a dance sequence just when the stakes were at the highest and an entire ill-placed national anthem to support the erroneous concept of patriotism — all add up to show that Ali Abbas Zafar and co had their intent clear. If it was giving in to the public domain of establishing an ‘entertainment’ genre to justify movies with inhuman waves of events and realizations, or if it was the Salman Khan way of doing things where emotions travel in discrete packets of energy after crossing a threshold frequency (here: songs, kids, nation) — both ways a huge sacrifice in the quality of this feature was made way too early in the stages of production.

While Khan does his annual cool macho-man-high-on-everything act, Kaif tries to be different from every other character she has ever portrayed. It was a good try. Sunil Grover though, wins it. Unarguably the most layered and the most artistic part of the entire movie, he is present throughout the length of the movie. It is worth extending thoughts over as to how his name was barely mentioned during their marketing campaign and his face negligibly visible in the trailer. His screen-time, although well deserved, should have been presented better.

Duality in tone, which transitions faster than Phoebe Waller Bridge’s expressions in Fleabag, is problematic from a completely cinematic point of view. But the Salman Khan cinematic universe cares little about that — for it thrives on it. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Tubelight and now Bharat extend similar stories of a protagonist who is too sincere and principled to be true. Society ends up supporting his cause because his story is miraculously telecasted through to the entire nation. Symbolically, this pattern gets our movie watching experience spot on. Hope is really a keyword and spoiler alert: the journey is not more beautiful than the ending.

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