Bharat Movie Review: Salman Khan is fleetingly earnest in this sentimental epic
Ali Abbas Zafar's film has great music, and works despite the predictable arcs and inexcusable length
Ali Abbas Zafar’s Bharat is a sprawling, sentimental epic about everything Indians hold dear: family, employment exchange, Zee TV. The film spans from 1947 to the year Dabangg was released, but for a good part has lead actor Salman Khan playing his age. As a Nehruvian moralist saddled with a semi-adventurous backstory — 'Forrest Grump', if you will — Salman lowballs his scenes and allows others to shine around him. Katrina Kaif and Sunil Grover make the most of this added wiggle room, while other actors fade. Shashank Arora, so annoying as the narrator in Made In Heaven, doesn't even get a line.
Episodic history primers are finally taking off in Bollywood. Once Salman clears the stage, Aamir Khan will ascend next year with Lal Singh Chadha. The genre remains ripe for scale and high drama, though Ali Abbas (adapting from the 2014 South Korean film Ode to My Father) makes some odd choices here. Once Partition is over with, there’s no real war or social strife to look into. Instead, the filmmaker, possibly lulled by the shelling and violence in Tiger Zinda Hai, his last outing with Salman and Katrina, chooses to tell the economic history of India. The approach is smart but not entirely compelling. We sift unconvincingly from the sluggish mid-sixties to the depressive seventies to the prosperous nineties, all the while Bharat — a young boy who made a promise to his father — makes good on his word.
Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
If you have seen the trailer, you can easily predict the transitions, and since you first meet these characters in their old age, and know how life would pan out for them, there's no thrill to their journeys. Youngest Salman is the most underwhelming, so far removed from the Prems and Surajs of old. The make-up and costume departments craft several looks for him, including an Amol Palekar moustache that keeps losing its angle and shape. Yet the actor comes into his own only towards the end, especially in the Wagah Border scenes that need him to emote beyond two twitches and a smile.
Katrina Kaif has started to have fun with her roles. “Turant exit lele,” she tells off an annoying visitor, and does not squirm to rein in Bharat with, “You are a self-obsessed man.” There's a good deal of over-the-top romance, but the songs are never deployed without context. (The suspiciously original Aithey Aa is a rare example where the dancers serve the song and not the other way round). Bharat has good music, and figures among the best Hindi film albums this year despite featuring lines like, “Phir shaadi hogi, babies honge, badlenge hum napkin…”
Like always, Ali Abbas excels at big set pieces (decent circus stunts plus clean VFX), but can't build much of lesser moments. Bharat’s family dynamics are practically non-existent, and a suitably talented actor is roped in for the final fold. What is enjoyable, though, are the small subversions: a Muslim child laying claim on his motherland, a longish sequence involving the National Anthem that’s interchangeably rousing and ironic.
There's only one fight scene in Bharat — a daring feat for a Salman movie, considering the disaster of Tubelight, but also a sensible one after the washout of Race 3. This is the superstar at his most balanced, mindful of fans but also aware of the bigger picture. In one crudely self-aware scene, Bharat, remorseful after an incident, quits his motorbiking career so as not to mislead the youth. Too often he proclaims his love for the country but places humanity over minor rousings. Such a wizened affectation might bore some, but casts Salman in a new light. Bhaijaan wants you to have fun this Eid, but he also wants you to ride safe.