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Indian actor Salman Khan enjoys an absolute monopoly at the cinemas on the Bollywood front during Eid. It’s that time of the year when Khan rolls out his Hindi-language magnum-opus, almost as a treat to his fans revelling in the long holiday break.

In 2019, Khan returns with director Ali Abbas Zafar’s sweeping epic ‘Bharat’. It’s the third time that Zafar has joined hands with Khan after blockbusters such as ‘Sultan’ and ‘Ek Tha Tiger’.

“At heart, ‘Bharat’ is a story of a displaced family during partition [India-Pakistan]… It’s a story of a father who makes his son [Bharat played by Khan] promise that he would look after his family and how that son keeps his promise for his 70 years of his life,” said Zafar in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!

Bharat’s eventful personal life plays out in the context of socio-political upheavals in India. The plot interweaves Bharat’s destiny with events that unravel out of his control in the world around him.

But that’s just skimming the surface. Before you venture into the cinemas, here are seven things you need to know about the epic adventure Bharat, out in the UAE on June 5.

1. ‘Bharat’ is an official adaptation of 2014 South Korean blockbuster ‘Ode To My Father’.

The original was set against the Korean post-war reality, while ‘Bharat’ has transplanted that idea into an Indian context. Director Zafar, in an interview with tabloid! last week, said he keeps away from re-makes in his career, but he made an exception with ‘Bharat’.

“Atul Agnihotri [producer and Khan’s brother-in-law] saw the film at the Berlin Film Festival. He showed it to Salman and Salman asked me to watch it. I saw the film and it stayed with me for a few days because it was such a beautiful film. I told them that I can do it if I adapt the film to Indian socio-political scenario… It’s an official adaptation, but it has an Indian soul now. We went for a complete different reality than the original,” said Zafar.

2. Salman Khan’s films are always a star-studded spectacle.

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‘Bharat’ boasts of a spectrum of Bollywood talents. Khan re-unites with Katrina Kaif on the big screen after appearing together in blockbusters including ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ and ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’. ‘Bharat’ also features Indian National Award-winning actress Tabu, comedian Sunil Grover, veteran Jackie Shroff and Disha Patani in pivotal roles.

3. Abu Dhabi plays a starring role in 'Bharat'.

The ‘70s oil boom in the Middle East is captured in all its sweat and splendour. When tabloid! exclusively visited Zafar in Abu Dhabi in October last year, both Khan and Kaif were spotted hard at work.

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“There’s a chapter in the film where lots of Indians work in oilfields in the Gulf and what we are filming here today replicates that portion in the film. This scene is set around the time when the Middle East found oil — say around the 60s or early 70s. We are showing the hardships of the people who were working here at that point and that chapter is being filmed here. We are trying to shoot it as real as possible,” said Zafar during that interview.

‘Bharat’ is one of his most challenging films of his career in terms of scope and ambition, he adds.

“When you are trying to contain the 70 years of history of a country in two and a half hours in a film, you need to cautious that you can mount it while keeping all the emotions intact and within the scope of the film.”

4. ‘Bharat’s’ shoot in the UAE was epic.

More than 200 crew members and 1,400 extras were on call to make Bharat believable. The large team spent 15 days filming crucial portions of the film at the Liwa desert, along with scenes set in Al Wathba and Al Ain. Local production house twofour54’s backlot at Kizad was also transformed into an Arabian marketplace. Pictures of Kaif and Khan trawling through the marketplace is now doing the rounds.

5. Priyanka Chopra was initially signed to play the role that was eventually played by Zafar’s best friend and colleague Kaif.

Chopra’s exit was announced five days before the filming was due to begin. The unceremonious departure made waves in Bollywood circles. Chopra choosing marriage over a covetable film like ‘Bharat’ had many stake holders, including Khan, balking from the rejection. Khan’s string of comments made during the promotions of ‘Bharat’ seem to indicate that Khan hasn’t forgiven Chopra over it. Snide remarks couched in humour rolled out during interviews with Khan.

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“Female actors might leave husbands for ‘Bharat’. But she did the right thing. She got married because she wanted. And Katrina got what she wanted,” said Khan in a press interaction in India.

“This is one of the amazing things Priyanka has done. It is a gutsy thing. She has worked so hard. I think she is one of the most hardworking actresses in Bollywood. It is so hard to keep a career here and there [the US]. And then the most important film of her life, which would take her perhaps another 10-15 years to get, she has refused to get married. I mean, it is an amazing thing,” he added. Khan’s choice of words did not go well with Chopra fans who called him out for his toxic masculinity.

Meanwhile, director Zafar urges us to focus on the bigger picture. He believes that all our attention should be on the existing cast and all the doubts about Kaif being the perfect fit or not would dissipate once the film released.

“People like to have unnecessary conversations,” said Zafar, alluding to press who are intrusive and are focused on Chopra’s casting.

Chopra is yet to comment on any of the remarks made by Khan during the promotions of Bharat.

6. You have to give it to Katrina Kaif for being relatively gracious while answering sticky questions about her being the second choice to play the sari-clad Kumud Raina in ‘Bharat’.

Her studied diplomacy indicates that she’s just focusing on her role in Bharat and not letting the surround noise get to her.

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“‘Bharat’ has been one of the most fulfilling and learning experiences for me as an actor because of the people I was working with, the kind of people that came into my life because of the film, the kind of coaches and the people I sat with for hours, days and weeks. And the part [the role of Kumud Raina aka Madam Sir] means so much to me. It is the best thing I could have asked for,” said in a chat show with Neha Dhupia. Khan, in a separate interview, even claimed that Kaif is likely to get a National Award for her role. Kaif, in turn, said that Khan’s words should always be taken with a pinch of salt.

7. Calling all Salman Khan fans.

This could be one of the rare times when you get to see the age-defying, buffed-up Khan play a 70-year-old man. There’s a catch though. This superstar isn’t an ordinary septuagenarian in Bharat. The trailer of Bharat reveal that the lead hero — with carefully constructed grey hair — can obliterate his enemies by his brute strength. Clearly, age isn’t a barrier for a superhero like Salman Khan. But did Zafar have to push Khan to play an old man? Bollywood films are notorious for showcasing ageing actors in young roles.

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“I wrote the script keeping in mind that Salman Khan would have to play that age. I did not have to push him or convince him. And according to me, the best part about Bharat is that old man phase. He’s senile, quirky and funny. He also keeps himself fit and hasn’t given up on life. He comes across as a jaunty man,” said Zafar.

Bharat is modelled after the iconic Hollywood action hero Rocky Balboa played by Sylvester Stallone. He’s fit as a fiddle in his seventies too.

Khan will also be seen as an 18-year-old strapping young lad. Word on the street goes that prosthetics came handy for this age-reversal phase. The technology used in the Hollywood hit Curious Case Of Benjamin Button has also been used for re-creating Khan’s looks, claim reports.

“For such people, their body is their temple… When you see Bharat, you will know that all’s justified... ‘Bharat’ has a very strong story behind it.”

Don’t miss it!

‘Bharat’ is out in the UAE on June 5.