Salman Khan is the son of a refugee in Bharat whose ambition in life is to keep his family together after the devastating events of the Partition of India. It was his father (Jackie Shroff) who had asked him to keep the promise of doing so after staying back in what would be Pakistan in search of his young daughter. Fast forward a few years, Khan's character goes on to keep his promise through some popular events that shaped India to its current state to eventually nudge a bigger conflict: his inability to let go of things.
Bharat has an interesting message to disseminate - that of people being bound by relations and their effects on the lives of everyone involved. But the premise is what takes the fun and conviction out of the drama, which has been projected with a wrong, playful tone.
At first glance, Bharat looks like an ode to the changing times of India as director Ali Abbas Zafar tries to cram everything into his 150-minute container of exaggeration and horseplay even as he aims to strike a few chords with his equally patriotic, sentimental audience. How else would one justify the presence of the topics of the boom in Gulf oil and acceptance of live-in relationships in India? The lack of homogeneity comes in between the audience and the entertainment as Bharat continuously slips into the masala territory that Salman Khan is famous for harbingering.
Narrating the birth of India while referencing a few notable events since 1947 does establish a sense of nostalgia in the audience, which is why Bharat just passes the boredom test even if you are not a Khan fan. But director and writer Zafar needs to take a lesson or two from other directors in the scene who use the same resources to create thrills (Andhadhun (2018)), organic storytelling (Luka Chuppi (2019)), and palpable, emotional drama (Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)) without being monotonous. His Bharat, however, does earn some points for its narrative technique and extravagant production, but it fails in the departments of storytelling and 'connecting with the audience.' Those two might make you run for the door, triggered by the more-than-one masala songs that just do not fit.
Another problem, although minor here, is the fashion of ad placements these days. Bharat promotes Zee TV (a national channel in India) as if it were a character; so unabashed is its presence, you almost think of a TV show popular in another television network (Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate on Star TV). With Student of the Year 2 (2019) as another example that took place only a month ago, it is evident that Hindi cinema is banking too high on ad placements in its films, a habit that not only plays with the movie-watching experience but also is downright ridiculous in terms of art.
Khan is surprisingly mature in some parts of the film, acting his age and doing what he is logically capable of. In other scenes, he is the typical character that we have seen almost every Eid in the past 4-5 years - the bread-winner with a cause to execute and a sister to marry off; the hero with more than a few plates to fill; the champion who thinks more than just about his family when his single-most love is his family. You see everything in Bharat and that is why it does not seem novel. The supporting characters have been directed very well, and do add to the emotional tug that you will feel towards the end. Kaif is probably the highlight of this film but I am personally not too ecstatic about her performance. Although she looks her character, her emotions did lie somewhere else than her face. Much like how Bharat's focus lies; not on the Partition but on the protagonist's ambition. Which is a good thing for this emotional drama.
There are a lot of things to watch and ponder about in Bharat yet none of them outsmart the final emotional message, which would have been delivered faster had Zafar not taken too long to get to the point. If you have the patience and some tissues for the tears that are bound to come even though artificially, Bharat will not just be a jingoistic, tear-jerking recipe. TN.