Bharat is a strange, confused, inconsistent mess of a movie.
The latest Ali Abbas Zafar-Salman Khan team-up after the memorable Sultan and unremarkable Tiger Zinda Hai, is the duo’s laziest film together. It’s essentially a few great scenes buried in 2 hours of unnecessary, muddled excuses to send the main man into random adventures like some sort of Bhai-ified childrens book. Now there’s a scary thought.
The film, an adaption of Korean drama Ode To My Father (itself an adaption of Tom Hanks-starrer Forrest Gump), follows the story of a man who’s life coincides with key, significant events in the country’s history. In the case of Bharat, it means we follow his life from a young boy witnessing the horrors of partition through to him as a 70-year old man living in modern day.
Let’s start there. Unless I missed a whole lot, for a film which is supposed to be set against significant historical events, there’s a severe lack of significant historical events. Apart from Partition where a young Bharat is separated from his father (a fantastic Jackie Shroff) and sister – who he spends his entire life in search of – all other ‘key events’ are just sort of glazed over. He sees the ’83 world cup victory on TV. Bharat and his family attend Nehru’s funeral and the film briefly mentions the economic liberalisation of the 90s. I tweeted about Modi once, watched Trump’s inauguration, and liked an Instagram post about Brexit. Where’s my movie?
Aside from the well-executed partition scene which comes to define Bharat’s entire life, the first 2 hours of the movie are a test in patience and tolerance of the testosterone on show. I quickly found myself struggling to find new ways to fidget. For better or worse, boredom is one tag you should never be able to attach to a Salman film. Director Abbas Zafar has managed to take a simple, affecting tale about a man who spends his life living in grief and regret for leaving behind his father and sister, and stretches it beyond all comprehension and sense.
The lion’s share of the film is formulaic episodic in how it sends Bhai off on various dull, disjointed adventures which are painfully templated. We get new setting, set piece, then song. New setting, set piece, then song. Rinse and repeat.
First there’s the entirely unnecessary ‘young Bharat works at a circus’ (in which Salman is supposedly digitally de-aged but he looks exactly the damn same). Followed by the relatively more watchable ‘Bharat goes to Abu Dhabi’ adventure, featuring a mine collapse (arguably the film’s most well-executed set piece). Then of course, Bharat vs pirates when he joins the merchant navy. Much of this could just as easily be deleted scenes from Tiger Zinda Hai.
In each of these, you never feel like they’re a part of a larger whole. You can feel the cast and crew going to a new location and/ or erecting a new set, doing the needful, packing up, following it up with a song and then returning home, till the next location is locked.
Bharat’s final half hour proves surprisingly affecting as you finally see what the film could have been. Here we get real conflict and emotional turmoil when Bharat returns to the border as part of an initiative to bring together families lost on either side as a result of partition, in the hopes that he too may be reunited with those he lost long ago. Here you finally get a sense of this film, or what it should have been, painting Bharat not as a saviour but a man fixated with the past and regret, unlike the earlier random drivel.
This leg of the film gives us two of its best scenes. So much so, in fact, that they feel out of place. One in which Katrina Kaif’s sparkling Madam Sir asks Bharat why he’s never gone to Pakistan to look for his father, and another where best friend Vilayti (a brilliant Sunil Grover) confronts Bharat, calling him out on how he’s so swept up by the loved ones he’s lost, he fails to see those that he still has.
As someone who considers themselves an open-minded viewer of Salman films, I know not to expect great performance, but in Bharat I’ve never been more aware of his shortcomings as an actor. He really doesn’t seem to try. Particularly as an old man. Sticking on a glue-on grey beard and attempting a huskier voice, does not a 70-year-old make. Much wow. What’s more, despite having an ensemble cast, the film couldn’t care less about anyone outside of Salman, Sunil Grover and Katrina Kaif. All others including fine performers such as Kumud Mishra and Shashank Arora are mere furniture.
In the end Bharat had me questioning whether Abbas Zafar’s Sultan was in fact a fluke. Bharat is but a few sparkling scenes buried in heaps of careless writing, weak performances and minimal shits given storytelling.