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For a superstar who has only lately allowed himself to be seen on screen with a middle-aged paunch-and-grizzled-jowls, to admit to being seventy plus is an act of bravery. Has Salman Khan finally grown up?
Yes, thats how old Bharat No Surname is, when the film opens. He has no last name because thats a way to belong to the whole country: tujhme poora desh hai, Bharat, he is told by his beloved father. And in the arc he draws of his life, which we see mostly in flashback, it is evident that we are seeing the story of Bharat, the nation. This parallel unfurls with verve and strong dollops of emotion in the first half, as we see the sundering of Bharats family in Lahore during the bloody tumult of the Partition and follow them to their arrival in a Delhi refugee camp.
In the first half, there is scope and sweep. Post interval, though, the film sags. Comprehensively.
Zafar, who works well with Khan, strikes the right notes initially when he shapes his hero as an unlettered but determined-to-do-the-right-thing-by-his-family youth, accompanied by his best friend Vilayati (Grover). Theres a stint in a circus, with Bharat risking his life as a stunt artist, and a coveted trip to the Middle East to help dig oil.
Theres enough conviction in these portions which carries Bharat, and us, through, even though Khan is given enough hero-giri moments to keep him in the foreground at all times. You get a sense of time past, of faded history in the recreation of those grand-but-tawdry circuses, and the maut ka kuans, which are now relegated to small town fairs, and job-hungry Indians chasing the oil boom in the Gulf, as hard-working labour.
Its a pity that the director-star duo dont take this as far as they could. They had a story which had the potential to become a solid reckoner of post-Independence nation-building, and how things rolled from then on, and a free hand to craft it. But the opportunity is squandered in unnecessary songs and dances, an aiming-for-cheap-laughs bad-taste comic thread which involves making a stutterer the butt of jokes, and improbable situations: want to meet Hindi-film-song-loving-sea-pirates? Step right up.
Kaif makes the most of her role, as the feisty Kumum aka Madam-Sir who comes into Bharats life, and who stays on, for the most part, without, gulp, either mandap or mangalsutra. The whole live-in thing is quite clunkily done, and with dotty reasoning, but while it lasts, it makes a statement. Kaifs get-up varies from scene to scene (eyebrows bushy to bushier; the tan a shade darker or lighter) and her Hindi is still effortful, but she takes Khan on, head to head.
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