Bharat has been described by its makers as one man’s life story unfolding parallel to the journey of a nation. It’s a killer pitch, but one that makes the film sound deeper and more interesting than it actually is.
Salman Khan plays the titular hero whom we follow from the age of eight until a little after his 70thbirthday. The film’s most moving scene comes early on when a family is separated during Partition, and a young boy makes a promise to his father.
“Bharat” is directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, who chipped away at Salman’s larger-than-life screen persona and extracted a winning performance from him as the flawed, vulnerable wrestler in “Sultan”. But this film, which is an official adaptation of the Korean hit “Ode to my Father”, musters none of the heft that it aspires for. The makers have nothing particularly insightful or meaningful to say about either the protagonist’s or the country’s journey spanning nearly seven decades.
As a result, the film is unmistakably boring. It’s also excruciatingly long at close to three hours. The script has an episodic feel to it, and Bharat’s life unfolds like a highlights reel. Considerable VFX are employed to render Salman much younger than his years to play the character in his 20s and 30s. From a motorcycle stunt driver in a circus to a blue-collar job in an oil refinery in the Gulf, to an adventure on the high seas in the Merchant Navy, Bharat’s every move is driven by that promise to his father. And that moving scene at the start of the film is repeated so many times in flashbacks that it loses its impact eventually.
What works in the film is the romantic track between Bharat and Kumud (Katrina Kaif), which is playful and occasionally funny, and develops nicely as the characters age. Katrina’s hair and make-up are questionable, but she shares undeniable chemistry and comfort with her leading man, which gives this film some of its most charming moments.
Sunil Grover gets a chunk of screen time as Vilayati, Bharat’s trusted best friend from childhood who sticks by his side through his many adventures. Sunil has a natural flair for conjuring up comedy in the simplest of moments, yet the script puts him through cringey scenes of forced humor like one in which he loses his underwear during a medical examination.
There are many instances of ‘cringey humor’ including one involving Somalian pirates who, as it turns out, love Amitabh Bachchan as much as we do. The makers are also not above indulging in overt manipulation, like a scene that segues into an unnecessary rendition of the national anthem. Or the full-blown sappy pre-climax centered on a television reality show intended to rectify the painful legacy of Partition.
More painful is watching a very young Disha Patani paired opposite a trying-to-look-very-young Salman in one of the early chapters of the film. Or Sonali Kulkarni, nine years younger than him, playing his mother. This might not seem like a big deal in the larger picture, but it’s reflective of an old malaise that Bollywood hasn’t been able to shake off yet.
On a scale of Insufferable to Awesome, “Bharat” ranks closer to the lower end, somewhere besides “Tubelight” and “Race 3”. There’s a lot going on in this film, yet very little is particularly remarkable. Salman plays Salman once again, and if you enjoy that goofy shtick then good for you, but it’s fast getting old. He’s most interesting playing a senior citizen, sporting grey with pride. Yet like a typical vanity project, while the film may portray Salman as aging it has no bearing on his ability to go all ninja warrior on trouble-making henchmen.
In the end “Bharat” is exhausting and pointless. It exists only to add to the legend of Salman Khan as the selfless provider, the man who has a heart as big as his biceps. In “Bharat”, Salman Khan plays Bhai.
I’m going with two out of five.