Movie Review?Bharat: One man. Many lives. One expression.

It’s 1964, and Bharat is Lord of the ring. A dwarf—one who looks shockingly reminiscent of the most adored Lannister on the planet—has just announced that ‘The Great Russian Circus’ is on in full swing, and so a digitally de-aged Salman Khan finds himself in a rather futuristic motordrome named ‘Maut ka Kua’, just so we realize the staggering odds this indestructible star is up against. Clad in a banyan—presumably a Dixcy Scott one, given the star’s penchant for ‘fully elastic, fully fantastic’ innerwear—he revs up his bike (the registration plate of which reads ‘BHARAT’) and, quite literally, takes a leap of faith through a flaming hoop. It’s all in a day’s work, as always, and so, having paused to take a sip or two from a coconut, Khan proceeds to the next big item on his checklist: romancing a scantily dressed seductress, one whose job description primarily consists of lip-syncing to lines like these: “Aaja doob jaaun teri aankhon ke ocean mein: slow motion mein.”

Not that we would expect anything less: in Salman Khan’s latest exercise in cinematic atrocity, a 53-year-old actor plays a 70 year-old man, and a woman nine years junior to him plays his mother. The film opens in the year 2010 in a crowded Delhi street, and people are playing Snake on Nokia handsets even as Khan—looking more like a walrus than a senior citizen with hideously fake grey whiskers plastered onto his face—is being propositioned on the merits on a new ‘development’ project by three suitably slimy men. This endeavour, naturally, involves a harmless wad of notes, but Bharat is not one to entertain the tiniest sliver of fraudulence. Having nearly hanged the delinquent and thrashed him around with a broom, he then gives us this priceless reminder of what all good Tigers do: “Yeh sher buddha zaroor ho gaya hai lekin shikaar karna nahin bhoola.”

Like in Kalank, a train is employed as the device of separation here, and Bharat’s birthday is used as a framing device through which he recounts the many (immemorable) chapters in his life. All these narrative threads are bound together by a dictum handed out to him by his father (played by a surly-looking Jackie Shroff): “Sab ka khyaal rakhna”. Once Khan has made a commitment, of course, there’s no looking back (a fact that’s as indisputable as the sphericity of the Earth itself, and one that we were first acquainted with a decade ago).

Katrina Kaif, meanwhile, dresses up as a male drummer when she’s not juggling jalebis or serenading her lover in the desert. “Umar ke saath saath tum bhi bachche hote ja rahe ho,” she chides her partner-in-crime at one point, to which the latter replies, “Ab tum apni report batao.” The writing is so ridiculous that it’s hard not to guffaw, though the film’s single biggest moment of honesty appears when Kaif reminds Khan of how there’s more to Being Human than meets the eye. “Tum bada hi self-obsessed aadmi ho,” she declares. True that.

Ali Abbas Zafar’s film has repeatedly been marketed as the “journey of a man and a nation together”, much like Yoon Je-kyoon’s original that featured such key points in East Asian history as the Hungnam evacuation of 1950 and the Vietnam War itself. Here, the director methodically ticks off one post-Independence checkbox after another: from the horrors of Partition in 1947 to the wave of unemployment that swept the country in the 60s; from the madcap madness of Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony to Mohinder Amarnath trapping Michael Holding plumb in front during the epoch-making final of the 1983 Cricket World Cup; from a young SRK making legions of teenaged girls swoon in the wake of his dimples to a certain Budget speech made in 1991 that transformed a nation’s economy for good.

The problem, however, is that all this is used as mere narrative fodder—one that serves the larger purpose of deifying a leading man with disconcertingly limited histrionic abilities, one who continues to sleepwalk his way through one middling film after another. India changes a lot in 63 years. Bharat’s expressions don’t.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Shreehari H. is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.

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