Bharat Movie Review

The lead players in “Bharat,” Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif, make the film loom tall and the chemistry between them sets new benchmarks in cuteness and lovability. (photo provided)

T-Series Films, Reel Life Productions and Salman Khan Films present “Bharat”

Produced by; Atul Agnihotri & Alvira Agnihotri

Directed by: Ali Abbas Zafar

Written by: Ali Abbas Zafar and Varun V. Sharma from the story of the Korean film “An Ode To My Father” by Soo-jin Park

Music: Vishal-Shekhar & Julius Packiam

Starring: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Sunil Grover, Kumud Kumar Mishra, Ayesha Raza Mishra, Satish Kaushik, Shashank Arora, Kashmira Irani, Dilip Gulati, Sonali Kulkarni, Aasif Sheikh, Nora Fatehi, Meiyang Chang, Kabir Sajid, Aaryan Prajapati, Matin Rey Tangu Sp. App: Tabu, Disha Patani, Barbiee Sharma, Ivan Rodrigues & others

A highly complex, convoluted story is what Salman Khan and his team have chosen this time. Not only is a Korean original to be adapted and Indianized, but since the history of our nation is even more complicated, the story has to ring true for its emotional core as well as content.

Ali Abbas Zafar’s dialogues end up as one of the highlights of this film, and the plus point about his direction is that it is skilled and detailed, especially given the complex canvas. It is in his screenplay that the desire to make it all perfect undoes some things. And when we say “perfect,” we also mean maintaining the quintessential Salman Khan brand.

A word of caution: the Salman Khan brand of 2019 HAS to be different (as in modified) from the Salman Khan brand that began with 2010’s “Dabangg.” That is the reason why “Tiger Zinda Hai” (also a Zafar film) loomed tall and “Tubelight” and “Race 3” did not. And this is where Zafar and co-writer Varun Sharma should have taken even more care, and not really be happy with a mere above-par product.

Let me enumerate the flip sides that could have been totally eschewed or changed in a big way. It is rightly said that Khan cannot be accepted as a weakling, or even a normal man – his larger-than-life persona has to be maintained, enhanced and justified. For me, what did not work was why his quitting the circus meant ending his relationship with Radha (Disha Patani) – why should one mix personal and professional lives? Two, at that point, he is in love with her and presumably willing to go ahead. But with Kumud (Katrina Kaif), there is a strange hesitation. Even though she comes to his home to live in together – for decades, and that too from the 1970s in Delhi! What was the whole point of this?

Three, his easy victories with the Middle-East bosses, the pirates later, the Delhi land-grabbers and their goons and, contrarily, his easy acceptance of defeat at the final Indo-Pak citizens’ get-together – all ring false, or at least, are too convenient, even though the pirates’ saga serves to bring in some quaint humor through the references to Amitabh Bachchan and what he means to film buffs worldwide.

References by way of tributes are also made to Parveen Babi (strangely, the timeframe seems a tad too early here!), the Manmohan Desai film “Amar Akbar Anthony” and its cult song “My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves,” and to various other entities. However, in the current scenario, people may not really relish making a hero out of Manmohan Singh (especially when there was no real need or even connect). But come on, maybe we are nitpicking – because the makers might expected a different political outcome of the General Elections and wanted to play safe!

By sheer contrast, the characters of Bharat’s uncle (Kumud Kumar Mishra), his associates in the Middle-East (especially Brijendra Kala), and the family scenes of the now 72 year-old man score high in the natural humor and emotional quotients, and that is when we realize that a very talented director is helming this film. The Partition scenes are so well-shot that we remember “Gadar: Ek Prem Katha”’s epic narration, and the arrival of the corpse-laden train is a classic sequence. However, the forced insertion of the National Anthem in a much-later sequence looks clumsy and forced, unlike its inclusion in “Dangal.”

The pivot of the story is a promise nine-year-old Bharat (Kabir Sajid) makes to his father Gautam (Jackie Shroff) when they are forcefully separated at Mirpur railway station. Bharat’s sister, nicknamed Gudia (Barbiee Sharma), has just been pushed off Bharat’s back, and his father cannot leave her. As they are anyway heading to Gautam’s sister(Ayesha Reza Mishra)’s house in Delhi, he says he will join them – that is Bharat, his mother (Sonali Kulkarni), Bharat’s sister Mehek (later Kashmira Irani) and brother.

In a refugee camp, Bharat as a kid befriends Vilayati (Aaryan Prajapati) and the two become fast friends, and Vilayati also lives with them. Bharat makes his promise as his sole and sacred aim in life, and the two work very hard to earn money, initially joining a circus. Here, Bharat as the star does death-defying stunts as a bike rider and also falls in love with the gorgeous Radha.

From here, the story continues on a personal level, with romance being there as a charming add-on to his lifelong mission – which is the far-fetched reason why he does not marry the decisive and talented Kumud.

In many parts, the film takes almost the feel of a documentary on Bharat’s life, glossing through areas that should perhaps have been more detailed, and spending needless time on (bad) songs laden, as always, with an overdose of Punjabi and other extraneous scenes. The interactions of Salman Khan and Sunil Grover could have been much more emotion-laden and intimate rather than their perfunctory bond ridden with some clichéd lines.

For me, the film’s appeal ends with the reuniting of the family with the grown-up Gudia, real name Meher (Tabu), though again the sequence looks too hurried rather than being brought in to exploit the full emotional wallop. And the only section among the funny ones that is truly hilarious while it lasts is when we have Satish Kaushik’s splendid cameo as the ship captain. Kaushik is tremendous, for it takes great talent to talk gibberish so much and so convincingly.

And Tabu is not the only artiste wasted – the Mishras and even Disha Patani are not explored. Jackie Shroff, in his cameo, impresses hugely. His expressions at every stage are a treat to watch. The rest are alright.

But it is the lead players who make the film loom tall. Salman Khan, yet again, strides the screen, decimating everyone else, and proving that anyone who considers him a non-actor either does not know what film acting is or has the theatrical mindset that calls the Naseeruddin Shahs, Manoj Bajpayees and their ilk as great FILM actors. He is spot-on as the youngster, ardent as always even when his dialogues delivery is patent and superb as the 72-year-old man.

Katrina Kaif is the scene-stealer, and the extraordinary woman she creates is one of her finest essays since “Raajneeti.” Note-perfect and deep into her character, she is even better as the older (in the film) Kumud and the chemistry between Bharat and her sets new benchmarks in cuteness and lovability.

The music is a complete letdown, and the Punjab-heavy lyrics and beats compound the disaster – this is Zafar’s second musical downer after “Tiger Zinda Hai” and his ascending musical graph of “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan,” “Gunday” and “Sultan” seem like coincidences. The sole luminous star in the score is the theme song “Zinda,” written by Zafar and composed by Julius Packiam, whose stunning background score shows that he is now among the couple of finest background score composers in the country.

If only the flaws had been reduced or ironed out, “Bharat” could have been a classic. It just stops short. But a Salman-Eid whopper is back after a two-year holiday.

Rating: ***1/2

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