Two years back, Salman Khan featured in ‘Tubelight’, a film which was an official remake of the American film ‘Little Boy’ (2015). The film could not strike a chord with the audience and some believe one of the reasons behind that was that Salman, who is often presented as a larger-than-life hero, was shown as a meek, submissive person in the film. His new film ‘Bharat’ is an official adaptation of the Korean film ‘Ode To My Father’ (2014) and here, though he is not really presented as a dormant person, it is not in the space of a ‘Dabangg’ (2010) or ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ (2012) either. As seen in the trailer, the film shows the journey of a person from the time he was eight to the time he turns seventy and the way he sees the country change in front of his eyes.
Bharat (Kabir Sajid, Salman Khan), an eight year old child, lives in a small town called Mirpur near Lahore. Independence has just been declared and the partition of India into two countries has resulted in a lot of violence and bloodshed. Bharat and his family are forced to leave Mirpur as it comes under the jurisdiction of Pakistan. Bharat, his father (Jackie Shroff), mother (Sonali Kulkarni), a younger brother and two younger sisters try to get on the train but his sister Gudiya slips down and gets lost in the crowd. His father gets down to look for her but before leaving he instructs Bharat to reach Hind Ration Store In Delhi which is owned by his uncle and assures him he will find Gudiya and then, meet them there. Years pass by and through Bharat’s eyes we see how the India changed in different ways ever since it gained Independence from British rule.
To trace a journey of a country from the time it achieved its freedom from colonial rule to the time it set foot into the contemporary world is a very interesting idea. It is also an idea which needs to be played around with carefully as you are covering a time period of more than sixty years (1947-2010) in the process. There is a chance of the narrative elements going haywire. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens here.
When the trailer of ‘Bharat’ came out, some people said that the lack of a ‘villain’ will put off a lot of Salman Khan fans and people who enjoy such films. Even ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ didn’t have a villain per se but Kabir Khan had identified the core conflict in the story and made sure the entire film revolved around it. In ‘Bharat’, the story meanders around aimlessly making you wonder if the director is sure about what he is trying to tell here. You see Salman becoming an accomplished artiste in circus, leaves it and goes to the Gulf to work as a manual labourer there, comes back and joins the Navy. Towards the end, we see the partition story reaching a culmination.
Was ‘Bharat’ a film that was trying to depict the pain of people who have lost their loved ones in partition? Or, was it a film which aimed at showing the change brought about in a country over sixty years through the eyes of its leading man? The film manages to achieve neither of these two things. It tries to be a ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ but when Ali feels it could go the ‘Tubelight’ way, he incorporates an action sequence, which seems forced and unnecessary, towards the end of the film to please Salman fans.
Salman Khan does well in a few scenes but his performance is far from being memorable. Katrina Kaif puts in some effort to look the part but her limited expressions do not really enable her to make a lasting impression. Sunil Grover gets almost the equal amount of screen time as Salman Khan and the actor proves, yet again, that given good opportunities, he could do much more than the drag roles one sees him playing on television. Actors like Kumud Mishra, Ayesha Raza Mishra, Shashank Arora, Kashmira Irani and Sonali Kulkarni are wasted in thankless roles. Kabir Sajid, the child playing the young Bharat does a splendid job.
On Eid 2017, we got ‘Tubelight’, Eid 2018 served us with ‘Race 3’ and now this Eid, we have ‘Bharat’. That is three disappointments in a row. When you realise the film has been made by the team that gave us two entertaining films (‘Sultan’, ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’) which also turned out to be bonafide successes at the box-office, one feels even more dejected.