The stories of lives torn asunder due to Partition and of the reunion of loved ones after years of separation make for an emotive watch. It makes you leave Bharat with some amount of connect, despite the overt mawkishness and accompanying in-film promotion for Zee TV that comes riding on it. Otherwise, in an effort to have an epic sweep, in terms of time, place and emotions, Bharat is way too ponderous and plodding.
On paper, seeing seven decades of post-Independence India through the life of one man, suitably called Bharat (Salman Khan), might seem like a wonderful idea. But certainly not, when the events and people from the country’s recent history remain casual, throwaway references rather than deeply tied-up in any manner with the protagonist’s own journey. Essentially it's about Hind Rashan Store making way for a mall to be in tune with the times, even as cinema changes hands from Big B to SRK.
- Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
- Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Sunil Grover, Disha Patni, Jackie Shroff, Tabu, Sonali Kulkarni, Brijendra Kala, Aasif Sheikh
- Run time: 167.15 minutes
- Storyline: The life of a man, suitably named Bharat, from the Partition to 2010, ostensibly encompassing the history of post-Independence India.
Khan as Bharat tells us that there are supposed to be no more than seven compelling stories in the world but actually there could be as many as there are individuals. However, his own—a bout a son keeping his promise made to a father left behind in Partition, of holding a family together in his absence—turns out to be nothing spectacularly different, it’s yet another variation of those seven stories. “ Desh logon se banta hai aur logon ki pehchaan unke parivar se hoti hai (A nation is made of its people and people derive their identity from their families).” It's all about loving a family as a building block of the nation.
The film chronicles Bharat’s life from early life in the refugee camps in newly formed Hindustan, to moving into his aunt’s shop and home; working in the Great Russian Circus to digging oil in the Middle East and later joining the merchant navy to make a living. There are far too many (and mostly needless) episodes, not to talk of the song-n-dance item numbers, that you want to snip away. Many of the incidents and characters could have been entirely done away with and others could have been elaborated upon. As a result, some interesting actors like Kumud Mishra and Shashanka Arora remain as props, while Disha Patani overstays even in the small circus sketch, saying cheesy lines like “ Kisi bhi Radha ko uska Krishna nahin milta (No Radha ever gets her Krishna)”. The film swings between melodrama and humour, some of it slapstick involving an underwear, while other bits are plain tasteless: with jokes on speech impairment. There’s a black and white, violin playing in the background scene that seems like a tribute to the “poor family” sequence in 3 Idiots .
Bharat feels like a yo-yo when making broader points. It aims to be progressive yet doesn’t want to rub the traditionalists the wrong way. It is dedicated not just to “hero” dads but also “superhero” moms, has a heroine Kumud (Katrina Kaif) who speaks her mind and lives by her own rules. Kumud tells Bharat to stay human than try and be god. She questions him for seeing her not as an individual with ambitions of her own, but as someone who’d take care of his mom and shop in his absence. Eventually, and however grudgingly, she does fall in line. And Bharat continues to objectify her, as the chashni (sweetness) in his jalebi -like muddled life. There is a highly laudatory portrayal of a live-in relationship but all’s well that eventually ends in a wedding.
Kumud hands a snide one to Bharat about trying to manipulate her when he says his father refused to give him a surname—Kumar, Singh, Khan, D’Mello—to maintain the unity and sanctity of the nation. And yet the film manipulates the audiences by playing the national anthem, complete with ‘ Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ chants. There is a Hindu-Muslim friendship at the core but you know who will play the hero and who will be the sidekick. India will win the world with “ batcheet, pyaar aur Hindi filmon ke gaane ” (talk, love and Hindi film songs).
Thankfully the film is not ageist. But there is a part sweetness and part hilarity with which Khan, turning 70, and Kaif presumably in her 60s act their age, fully aware that they are “acting”, make it seem like it was some kind of an in-joke on the sets. Khan continues to be all bulked-up, sporting the same unbending physique and muscles, only his face is made to age with make-up, and he says lines like “ Sher boodha zaroor ho gaya hai par shikaar karna nahin bhoola (The tiger may have aged but hasn’t forgotten how to hunt)”.
Khan might get to show off his emotional chops with the ever-reliable Tabu for company but it’s Kaif who pleases and almost walks away with the film with her natural, unaffected and winsome ways. Also, for a change, it’s refreshing to find a film in these times, that doesn’t portray former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a bad light. Some points scored there.