Salman khan has often explained the rejection of his earlier Eid release, Tubelight, as thus — the film came out on a festival and people expected to be entertained; instead they left the theatre crying, and the film flopped. As much as a Salman Khan film can flop. That is why Bharat — despite finding its origins in the heart-wrenching Partition of India, and being linked to it till its climax — is primarily an entertainer. Some jokes land lightly and dance around you; others hit you in the small of your back with all the subtlety of an express train — but they are aplenty.
Bharat – Salman and director Ali Abbas Zafar tell you from the very first scene — will make you cry. But it will also give you action, romance, drama and definitely, comedy. Ergo, an Eid blockbuster – ask Salman’s fans. Bharat seems to be designed for them. In case you were expecting Salman and Ali to give you a reprisal of that brutally honest scene from Sultan in which the actor – shown overweight and past his prime – faced his reality and teared up, Bharat is not that film. Instead, as a bearded sexagenarian here, he beats up a group of much younger men without breaking a sweat. Bhai:1 – brutal honesty:0.
Bharat begins with a train full of corpses entering a sleepy station somewhere in Pakistan. Caught in the middle of post-Partition riots, Salman’s character – Bharat – gets separated from his father (Jackie Shroff) and sister. He spends the rest of the film, spread across 60 years, honouring his promise to his father – to keep their family together. Earnest and sure-footed, these are some of the best scenes of the film, and you can’t help but tear up.
As Bharat’s story runs parallel to that of independent India’s, momentous events in history get referenced — Nehru’s death, Amitabh Bachchan’s rise, India winning its first cricket World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar and Shah Rukh Khan emerging as superstars the nation looked up to. Even India’s liberalisation and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh get a postscript.
To take care of his mother (Sonali Kulkarni) and two siblings, Bharat becomes a circus artiste, ably supported by his childhood friend Vilayati (Sunil Grover). Bharat’s first girlfriend, Radha (Disha Patani), is there perhaps only for the Slow Motion song. Once she matches steps with a de-aged Salman, her track is unceremoniously discarded.
This is perhaps Bharat’s single biggest failing. Other than Salman, Katrina and perhaps Sunil, everyone gets half-baked roles and are expected to sleep-walk through the film. Actors as talented as Tabu, Sonali and Kumud Mishra are on the periphery with nothing much to do.
The film is at its most agile when its two leads are together. Salman as a coy Bharat and Katrina Kaif as the plain spoken Kumud — she of the foxy curls and Parveen Babi swag. The actor is feisty and charming and Salman is also at his best when he’s with her — whether as a young couple flirting on oil fields somewhere in the Middle East, or as an elderly couple looking back on a life well lived. In a refreshing moment, she even tells Bharat, “Tum thode self-obessed nahi ho?” Another zinger from her is “You are a human being, don’t try to play God.” It is hard not to cheer for Kumud.
A lot like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Salman emerges as an advocate for peace between India and Pakistan. A long drawn out sequence underlines how both the countries lost their own identities during the Partition, and how wounds are far from healed may feel manipulative, but it works – I witnessed more than one person wiping away a tear.
That is where Bharat and Zafar score. Despite knowing what the film is trying to do, in some cases easily guessing plot turns in advance, you cannot help but enjoy it. This one is an Eid winner. Bhai just got his mojo back.