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Slow Motion Mein

Saturday, June 08, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

Bharat
Director:
Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Sunil Grover and others
Rating: * * 1/2

It is a grandiose idea—linking the fate of a man called Bharat to the story of India. If Ali Abbas Zafar wanted to pull it off, maybe he should have looked at Forrest Gump for inspiration, rather than Korean film Ode To My Father.

Bharat begins well, the seventy-year-old Bharat has taken his large brood to a particular station, where he celebrates his birthday every year. By his side is Kumud or Madam-Sir (Katrina Kaif), who, it turns out never married him, and had a journey far more interesting than Bharat’s—in fact, the story of post-Independence Indian women can be seen through Kumud’s progress, though she is just a bystander in Bharat’s life.

For some inexplicable reason, the family does not know Bharat’s backstory and he decides to tell it in flashback, from the time of Partition, when he is separated from his father (Jackie Shroff) and sister, while his mother (Sonali Kulkarni) and two younger siblings make it safely to India. The father made Bharat promise to look after the family, and promised to come to the provision store run by his sister. Which is why Bharat resists offers to sell the shop for the establishment of a new mall.

Instead of weaving India’s historical milestones into Bharat’s journey, Zafar has him and his best buddy Vilayati (Sunil Grover) work in a circus (the film’s most colourful portion, with a Disha Patani dance!), then as oil field workers in the Gulf (where he and Kumud fall in love) and later as mechanics on a merchant navy ship.
In a voiceover, Bharat talks of a few historical events, like the death of Nehru, India’s World Cup victory in 1983, the advent of satellite television and globalization, but no mention of other important episodes like the wars with Pakistan and China, the Emergency, the assassination of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, or the telecom revolution.

What a waste of an opportunity to portray the evolution of modern India! But that would have required research and deft writing; why bother when the Korean film’s template was there to adapt? There are a couple of throwaway touches, like a young Amitabh Bachchan watching the circus and adapting Vilayati’s man-in-egg act for a future film (Amar Akbar Anthony); or Somali pirates sparing the lives of Indian sailors, when they sing Bachchan numbers.

If Salman Khan plays Bharat, of course he gets to be heroic --he saves fellow workers from a gas leak and pirates, and even as an old man, beats up hitmen sent to attack him. He also remains fiercely loyal to his family to the extent of living in with Kumud instead of marrying her, but with his mother’s approval. For emotional manipulation Zafar includes a TV show that seeks to reunite family members separated during Partition!

Far from being an epic that it could have been, it is just a chance for Salman Khan to appear in varied costumes against different backdrops. With the focus on him at all times, to the extent of treating other actors-- except Grover and Kaif-- like pieces of furniture, the star musters up enough enthusiasm to give an earnest performance—Zafar had also got him to wake up and act in his earlier Sultan. However, Bharat is disappointing for viewers who are not Salman fans.

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