Bharat: There is spectacle, but not soul

Towards the end of Bharat, the film, Salman Khan’s 70 year old character, also called Bharat, is standing straight – grey hair and beard, but no wrinkles at all and a very poised back (that is the level of fitness I aspire to) – and fighting goons. This is a Salman Khan film, of course there is going to be the unbelievable. I don’t mind that. I don’t even want it to be realistic, I am willing to watch his film as a no-brainer too, but at least give me something that I can connect to. To buy a 70 year old Bharat as a single man, fighting gundas on bikes is too much of a stretch, even for Salman Khan. Khan also plays younger versions of Bharat, the action sequence would’ve been better suited in those ages.

Bharat is the story of an evolving man, the promises he made and the horrors of the partition. The premise is great, the spectacle even more so and director Ali Abbas Zafar and writer Varun V. Sharma carve out a good plot too but it lacks soul. And because of that, the narrative gets clanky and becomes a snooze fest I didn’t want to sit through. Starting in 1947, young Bharat and his family leave Lahore to come to Delhi, a safe place. But his father (Jackie Shroff as Gautam) and younger sister don’t make it. So Gautam makes his son promise him that he will take care of the family and that he will join them in Delhi soon. Bharat waits his entire life for the return of this man, and girl, who he once lost.

Skipping years, Bharat is now a part of a circus, with his best friend Vilayati (Sunil Grover) and girlfriend (?) Radha (Disha Patani). Why this entire setup was added to the film is totally unanswerable, because it doesn’t act as a plot device, but rather as a proof of the fact that Salman Khan is still very much the hero we are looking for – one who can sing and dance, and perform some action sequences. Disha Patani gets one song and one scene, and she plays with what she’s given to play with. She’s dancing really well and even expresses well when she has to. My only question to her character is: Is she wearing era appropriate clothes? I have another: Was Radha written to just show abs? We shall never find out.

As Bharat and Bharat move from an abundant life in Lahore to a middle class life in Delhi to a labourer’s life in the Middle East to the life of an engineer of a ship sailing from India to Malta, you fail to understand the purpose of these shifts. Some are necessary as was moving from Lahore to Delhi, while the others seem unimportant. The point and purpose of Bharat is very similar to that of Bajrangi Bhaijaan – to make sure that people meet their people. The circumstances are different, but at heart both the films aimed at making loved ones meet again. And while one film worked – so much so that it had most of us in tears – the other (Bharat) fails miserably at creating the emotional connect.

This is an after-partition story. Without emotions, without visible pain, there can’t really be a story. The film starts off well and as the train moves further away from Mirpur Railway Station (for Attari), you see the emotions. Jackie Shroff’s eyes know that they will never see the family again. As Bharat grows up, the promise remains intact, but the emotions are in place only on the surface.

Salman Khan as Bharat is one of his worst portrayals. There’s absolutely no acting involved on his part and what adds to this is his makeup and prosthetics. Bharat ages from being a little boy to a 70 year old man, but the poise and body language remains the same. The only thing that changes is the colour of his hair. Sunil Grover’s Vilayati and Katrina Kaif’s Kumud face the same problems, but they save themselves from the backlash because of their performances. Sunil Grover is on screen for as long as Salman Khan and while Khan can’t deliver, Grover shines.

But my favourite part about Bharat has to be Katrina Kaif. This is her year. First in Zero and now in Bharat, Kaif shines as if the world is her oyster. As Kumud she’s stern and elegant and beautifully poised. She expresses not just with her face but with her body and most importantly, with her eyes. Kaif’s Madam Sir will be a character I will remember for a long long time. It’s not just written well, but also very well portrayed. Usually when I have to write something for Katrina Kaif, I begin by saying something like “Katrina Kaif looks stunning…” but this is a first when I am mentioning her looks after her acting capabilities, and that’s solely the reason as to why only she deserved to be in the thumbnail of this review. Special mention to Amit Thakur who’s done Kaif’s hair for the film. That is a character in itself!

Fine actors like Sonali Kulkarni, Kumud Kumar Mishra, Shashank Arora and Tabu are wasted like nothing has ever been wasted before. After Bharat, I’d say Jai Ho wasn’t Tabu’s worst choice after all.

All in all, Bharat is a film that needed more research, more writing and then it would have been the film Priyanka Chopra Jonas might’ve regretted walking out of, and if she chose to do it (with proper writing) it could’ve also been the best and biggest film of her career, as Khan claims it to be, but with this script, it would’ve been neither.

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