In one of the scenes in “Bharat”, Salman initiates a group of people in an employment exchange to chant “Jana Gana Mana” as a mark of honor to their nation in the 1960s. The theatre in which I was watching this film also saw quite a few people standing up for the national anthem as well!
Frankly, Its very easy to lambast a superstar and point at his midriff and biceps just to make a point that he/she is a bad actor. Add to that the fact they are successful in putting the “swag” out rather than “content”. This is especially true in Hindi cinema’s nomenclature. “Bharat” is an effort to declutter the mystique of Salman Khan. In fact, this film shows for the first time that he has “aged”. But the film can be considered an outlier of sorts. I mean give or take, his peers including SRK (who has attempted ridiculous outings like “Fan” and Zero”) have thought playing a thoughtful guy once in a while but have never been successful.
“Bharat” is a film with its heart in the right place at the “right time”. Its execution could have been a bit better but it does put in a lot of effort to be “believable” even in the world of Bhai.
The film is an adaptation of the Korean film “Ode To My Father” and is helmed by Salman’s tried and trusted lieutenant ie. Ali Abbas Zafar (Tiger Zinda Hai, Sultan). It stars Katrina Kaif, Sunil Grover and a host of other actors.
This essay is aimed at reviewing “Bharat” and exploring the idea of nationalism in Indian films.
The Plot of Bharat
The film delves into the life and times of Bharat, a hardworking and enigmatic senior citizen working and living with his extended family in Old Delhi. There is a lot to the age of Bharat as he has lived a long and adventurous life full of action and folklore. His exploits range from running on the train to Pakistan to playing a biker in a circus to digging tunnels in the Middle East to battling sea pirates to searching for his long lost sister on a television show. The film talks of him and his closely knit family which includes his “live in” partner Kumud ( Katrina Kaif), his younger siblings, his best friend Vilayati (Sunil Grover). They all live in an old Delhi bungalow and run a “ration store”.
On his 70th Birthday like every year, Bharat takes his family to the Attari railway (not far from Pakistan border) station to spend the day. His curious grand daughter asks him about the station and why it is so important to him. He then narrates his entire life in flashback. The film ends on a positive note and shows Bharat fulfilling a promise which kept him alive all these years.
The Optics of Bharat
Ali Zafar has ensured that he follows the entire story by “toning” down the mystique of Salman. He has in a very nuanced way done the balancing act of making him look superhuman but at the same time letting him go through the toils and travails of a common man. The Russian Circus set built to showcase Bharat’s antics in “Maut Ka Kuan” is beautifully done and keeps in mind the aesthetics of 1960s very well. Part of the optics is the concerted effort to show Disha Patani and her midriff in these sequences. She looks great but doesn’t have much to contribute to the narrative of the film. That’s Bollywood for you.
The sequences for oil drilling and tunnel digging in the Middle East are also nicely produced. Salman’s top rate fitness makes him camouflage in the environment very well. Full marks to Ali Zafar for showing the sea pirate sequence very accurately. There are some needless comedy inputs for the ‘janta’ which I think are understandable but they definitely kill the authenticity of the lead character and his world.
India and Bharat
The film showcases Nehru’s era, the partition of 1947, liberalization by Manmohan Singh , India’s foray into satellite television and so on. Bharat seems to be witness to a lot of Indian history. Although he is not at all associated with these landmark events, but Bharat lives, witnesses and in a remote way gets affected by them. One can easily see the inspiration from the Tom Hanks epic “Forrest Gump”. Bharat is also seen as a unifier of sorts, like a “Pravakta of Akhand Bharat” ( spokesperson for a United India) in most scenes. The TV Show in which Bharat is looking for his lost father and sister creates a sense of belongingness for the viewer and you do feel emotionally invested for a second. In the present day too, Bharat sees that the local population wants to build a mall instead of the shops in Old Delhi. Kumud is seen playing the legendary Doordarshan anchor “Salma Sultan” in one of the sequences. These are all pages from India’s popular culture and you cant ignore them.
In a Salman film, you usually throw logic out of the window. As he is ageless and hot blooded to beat hundreds of men in one go. In Bharat also, there are some ridiculous ideas such as “The Employment Exchange” which send people out of India for jobs. Even when he is 70, Bharat is seen pumping heavy iron at Humayun’s Tomb. He can beat 4-5 bikers half his age and his kicks are as accurate as a martial arts instructor. The inclusion of Katrina Kaif who never looks around 70 in her older self was a bad idea. Her British accent and the effort to neutralize it is so funny. But on a whole, these moments don’t kill the central idea. Bharat as a film is somewhat “insulated’ from Salman’s macho ism and its accompanying logics.
Performances of Bharat
The film is full of great actors like Kumud Mishra, Shashank Arora (from “Titli” and “Made in Heaven”), Bijendra Kala and Satish Kaushik. But they don’t have anything important to put forward as Salman-Katrina combo hogs the screenplay. The find of the film has to be Sunil Grover who plays “Vilayati”. He shares a lot of time with Salman in the story and does act very well. In fact, in some scenes he is a tad bit better than Bhai. Katrina Kaif has worked very hard on her Hindi diction but her Britishness and supermodel look is a misfit for the role she is essaying.
In the end, Salman Khan is the main reason for this film and he does justice in portraying Bharat. His acting skills are limited but he does make an effort to look his age on screen age.
I will give this film a 6 out of 10 for its production design, story idea and Salman’s screen presence. This film is not for action movie buffs so they can avoid it.