Bhai's fig leaf
No Bhai fan takes reviews seriously. They are only serious about Bhai. At Gaiety-Galaxy, we're seeing the Rajinification of Salman Khan: now Bhai, too, has a garlanded cutout, drummers, do-gooder fan clubs
No Bhai fan takes reviews seriously. They are only serious about Bhai. I saw Ali Abbas Zafar's Bharat, starring Salman Khan, which released on Eid, at Gaiety-Galaxy in Mumbai. These cinemas, actually the G7 Multiplex, are the epicentre of Salmanbhai fandom.
Adapted from the Korean film JK Youn's Ode to My Father, Bharat aims to be a potted history of India and the subcontinent, while mirroring the life of its hero. In fact, history is merely the fig leaf for this out-and-out Bhai-fest, with the brawny hero, hot babes (Katrina Kaif, Disha Patani), comedian buddy (Sunil Grover), and romance-action-melodrama formula. So, there is Partition, when Bharat, torn from half his family, escapes to India from Pakistan, after promising his dad that we'll look after his family, in a convincing opening. What follows is a lot of Bhaigiri stapled together — Bhai riding a bike in the maut ka kuan at a circus, action in a Gulf oil rig, skirmishes with Somali sea pirates. Occasionally, the film remembers the history stuff: abe yaar, unemployment led to Indian jobseekers in the Gulf; India won the World Cup; then finance minister Manmohan Singh liberalised the economy, tick, tick, tick. The Eid crowd gets restless, and soon we're back in the Bhai Universe or Bhaiverse: he water-hoses pirates; hotties bobble their things and do pelvic thrusts at him; pop-up patriotism is squeezed in with a national anthem scene designed to bring audiences to their feet.
Nonetheless, it is incredibly courageous, given India's politically right-wing atmosphere, to make a film that cherishes the bonds between the people of India and Pakistan, and voices minority anxieties by emphasising "taking responsibility for everyone." In fact, Salman has made more films with Kabir Khan addressing subcontinental peace, in Ek Tha Tiger, Bajrangi Bhaijaan (both on Indo-Pak relations) and Tubelight (on Sino-Indian relations). But Salman's earlier films with Zafar (Sultan, Tiger Zinda Hai) were also strong and enjoyable.
However, Bharat has a conflicted attitude towards women. Bhai loves his Gulf rig boss, "Madam Sir," but the moment she becomes his "ishqe di chashni," she swiftly demotes herself to minding his local kirana shop, while he's busy saving the world. Deep sigh. And Sonali Kulkarni, much younger than Bhai, plays his mother (deeper sigh). But she approves of his live-in relationship with Madam/Chashni: pretty radical for Bollywood.
At Gaiety-Galaxy, we're seeing the Rajinification of Salman Khan: now Bhai, too, has a garlanded cutout, drummers, do-gooder fan clubs. I adore Gaiety-Galaxy: my Upper Stalls ticket on Eid cost '120, and all the snacks — samosas, popcorn, sandwich, burger, Pepsi glass, choco bar ice cream — cost just '30 each; tea/coffee is '20. Veteran theatre owner Manoj Desai insists entertainment must be affordable. "When I opened the theatre with Seeta aur Geeta in 1972, the ticket cost '2.20," he tells me. "The ticket cost '2 and the 20 paise was a tax to help Bangladesh war victims." I wonder how many of you who saw Seeta aur Geeta, realised you were helping Bangladeshi refugees? Long live Bollywood!
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
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