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Since 2015’s cornily effective Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Bollywood strongman Salman Khan has laid siege to the annual Eid holiday, and has done much to restore both a once-tarnished reputation and his box-office clout. For his latest vehicle, he has recalled writer-director Ali Abbas Zafar (who oversaw 2016’s Sultan) to rework the premise of a major east Asian hit: Ode to My Father, from 2014, in which an everyman endured 60 years of Korean history in something like a straight-laced Zelig or Forrest Gump. Star power holds sway in Bollywood, however, and Khan’s hefty grocer, roaming memory lane while awaiting a train, feels like a brother to Sultan’s wrestler-hero. Once more we’re asked to cheer for Salman the survivor, whose bruised, battered, still-staggering bulk is somehow intended to stand for India itself.
This time, alas, we struggle. Bharat’s Achilles heel is its desire to pack so much in, at headspinning pace, tossing causality to the wind. Zafar reduces history to one damn thing after another, resulting in a 150-minute fire sale of period costumes and abandoned story beats. Separated from his father and sister during partition, the Muslim-raised Bharat joins the circus, romances civil servant Katrina Kaif during a spell as a pipeline worker, expresses dreams of becoming a stationmaster that come out of (and go) nowhere, before dancing through a Maltese brothel while on navy shore leave. Even by masala movie norms, it feels absurdly overstuffed.
The better moments come when Zafar calms down and closes in on his leads’ well-tended chemistry. Kaif is one of the few actors capable of taking her co-star seriously, and the sincerity in her gaze encourages us to look more favourably upon a protagonist who gets yanked through the decades without making a single compelling choice or facing anything like dramatic consequences. The last half-hour neuters the most substantial idea – a TV show reuniting families split by partition – by squashing it between a comical encounter with African pirates and a fight scene intended to sate hardcore Khan devotees.
Bharat is certainly spirited, and almost admirable in its determination to cover every conceivable base, but there’s a fine line between all-embracing and simply all-over-the-shop. Bharat needs rewrites, or at least some kind of breath test.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Bharat review – frenetic Salman Khan epic throws everything in the mixer | Film