Let's figure. What's bigger - Bhai's biceps or box office numbers? At the moment, the biceps are winning hands down. Which does not mean 'Bharat' is not raking it in as an Eid offer. It has crossed the magic 100-crore formula aaram se and aggressive media promotions are playing up an impressive statistic: Salman Khan has given 14 consecutive 100-crore hits in a 10-year period. Bhai ho toh aisa!
In 'Bharat', Salman Khan pays a rich tribute to Salman Khan, who acts as Salman Khan, but pretends to be Bharat. Confused? Don't be! Remember a forgotten Neta-ji (DK Barooah) from way back when (1974) who had dramatically declared "Indira is India...India is Indira"? Samjho ki every Salman Khan movie is based on the same principle. In his latest movie, the narrative goes, "Salman is Bharat...Bharat is Salman." Forget the crash course in history. Forget the pathos of Partition. Forget logic and reason. Watch it to understand the Salman phenomenon. And Salman's fandom.
I caught the movie at a multiplex close to home after we shelled out an absurd amount for the tickets. The theatre was half full on a Saturday evening. Oooops. Not good, I thought to myself. However, I cheered up at the sight of Jackie Shroff dressed like an Armani model. For a station master in Lahore, his amazing gear seemed a tad too posh. But hey, it's a Salman movie. Just wait for Bhai's entry, I said. Watch what he wears in the opening scene. Yaaassss! Here he comes...Arrey! Is that really Bhai or a Vegas Elvis impersonator astride a motorcycle? Who cares? It's time to stop thinking and meekly surrender. The stunts have just begun. And they are pretty cool!
I spot a lovely lady on screen. No, not Disha Patani. An even lovelier lady. Who be that? Hmmm. It is Sonali Kulkarni. Hold your breath - Sonali is cast as Salman's mother and Disha as a love interest. Sonali as love interest and Disha as daughter would have made more sense. Khair. Don't think numbers! Don't be ageist, I tell myself sternly! So what if Bhai is 54 or 56 or 68 or 100? As someone says snarkily in the movie, "After a point, who cares?" Even Katrina playing 'Madam-Sir', Bhai's lady friend in the movie, doesn't seem to care. How can she, with all those unruly curls flying around her face? I wanted to loan her a comb, some hair pins, and a scrunchy. If the original choice for the role of Kumud/Katrina (Priyanka Chopra) does indeed regret having missed out (on a tagda blockbuster), she can console herself she didn't have to sport those strange curls.
This ain't Shyam Benegal's 'Discovery of India', folks. It is Ali Abbas Zafar's 'Discovery of Salman Khan'. The story trundles along, picking and choosing history lessons that suit Salman's six avatars as he ages (no chance!) from a circus stunt artist in spangles to an old man in tweeds who can easily pulp goons on bikes and still keep his shirt on (alas!). In between, he drills for oil in the Middle East, joins the Merchant Navy, dances on the streets of Malta, all the while harbouring mucho guilt for letting go of his baby sister's hand after promising his dad (Armani model Jackie Shroff) that he will look after his parivaar. This is bhaari stuff, guys. That train is about to change the destiny of our country. Of Bharat. Geddit? It's a HUGE shift, folks! From Hindi cinema's fixation on ma ka pyaar, we now have unadulterated father love. From 'Mere paas ma hai' to 'Mere paas baap nahi hai...' Trust me, it's a gigantic statement. Come on, screen dads - step up. Aapka time aa gaya.
The interesting thing about 'Bharat' is its chasteness. It is so chaste, so chaste, it's almost anti-septic. It's also full of goodness - like a bowl of quinoa salad. Forget about lip locks, there isn't any finger-locking, either. Katrina gingerly kisses Salman's forehead. And Salman greets his beloved with a namastey. We are told it's a family entertainer, okay? No kisses, no romance. Just hip grinding, that too in slow motion, during a song by that name. Yup. This season's hit number: 'Slow Motion'.
The best performance is from an unknown actor playing a dreaded, machine gun-toting Somali pirate who loves Amitabh Bachchan. I would give him an award straightaway. No jokes. Important question: was I bored? Not for a minute. Confession: I wiped a few tears during that OTT sequence at Wagah. Brave of the filmmakers to go ahead with a Hindi-Paki bhai bhai message given the current situation. I loved the total absence of irony as absurdities kept piling on. Like everyone else, I was there to watch Salman Khan being Salman Khan. His eyes moved quite a lot. The rest of his face was kinda frozen. Ditto for Katrina. Ditto for Tabu. Bhai's biceps remain as articulate as ever. Thank God.
(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)
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