There’s something disconcerting and distasteful about pulpy patriotism. Salman Khan’s Eid release ‘Bharat’ chokes us with that muscular, overstuffed idealism with complete disregard to subtlety.
In this uneven, sprawling epic Khan plays the title character — a displaced child of India-Pakistan partition — who inherits an unhealthy dose of survivor’s guilt and familial devoutness.
Bharat’s life — played by a defiantly age-proof Khan — is torn apart by the bloody partition and his eventful life is intertwined with the events that play out when he forcibly boards the train from Muslim-majority Mirzapur to Hindu-dominated India.
His younger sister and his doting father (Jackie Shroff) are left behind in Pakistan and Bharat’s life is largely spent on making good the promise that he gave his father: an oath to be a stand-up guardian to his fractured family in India.
While such lofty ideals may sound good on paper, it makes for a painfully dull and meandering film. Bharat goes on and on. And just when you think it’s over, it goes on for some more time.
Perhaps, it’s because it’s director Ali Abbas Zafar and Khan’s most ambitious film to date after their blockbusters ‘Sultan’ and ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’.
Spanning decades, ‘Bharat’ shows the hero’s destiny being shaped by a string of socio-political milestones that play out in India from 1947 to 2010.
As far as ambitions go, ‘Bharat’ aims high, but this interminably punishing film never touches dizzying heights of greatness.
But if you can keep that grouse aside, this is one of the rare instances where you can see Khan play a lovable-but-cranky 70-year-old patriarch. Even at 70, this elderly man is fit as a fiddle and can fight off dangerously armed strapping young lads on a motorbike. That ill-placed action sequence also makes you wonder if ‘Bharat’ is Khan’s vanity project gone rusty.
Another big problem lies with the casting of Katrina Kaif as Bharat’s soulmate. She plays Kumud, an employment officer who helps Bharat get a job in an oil company in the Middle East. This is not an ethnically-ambiguous role, she’s on call to look and act like a sari-clad Indian woman. But her mannerisms and anglicised, accented Hindi is a stumbling block. There’s absolutely no chemistry between the two either.
Unlike Kaif, comedian Sunil Grover as Bharat’s best childhood mate and conscience keeper is a perfect foil to Khan’s character. His comic timing is spot-on and the scenes featuring Khan and him enliven the film.
Tabu in a brief role hits home. In less than seven minutes, she encapsulates the grief, angst and trauma faced by displaced children. If Tabu depended on her acting skills to elevate her role, Khan seems to have depended on tubs of glycerine to communicate his trauma. His tears have a life of its own in this film.
As far as story goes, there’s a lot packed into Bharat. Bharat’s tryst with a travelling company circus and his stint in a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates are some of the episodes that test our patience. The scenes in which the all-conquering hero Bharat negotiates with a gun-toting Somali pirate is laughable.
The film would have benefited a lot from trimming of such lard-filled episodes.
Even if you are a full-blown Salman Khan fan, Bharat is likely to test your patience. Watch this only if you have taken an oath to watch all of Khan’s films during Eid.
Cast: Katrina Kaif, Tabu, Salman Khan, Sunil Grover, Disha Patani and Jackie Shroff
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Stars: 2 out of 5