Fifteen minutes into the movie, there’s this stretch in a circus involving a bike, a death defying race, a clueless character who has the gumption to even think of outdoing Bhai in a Bhai film on Eid and Bhai. We’re prepped for an adrenaline gushing gratuitous race for him to defy, both death and gravity to go past the finish line first, to bring up the “Slow Motion” song.(With the round the clock promos, nothing onscreen is enigmatic anymore. Plus it’s a Bhai movie, predicting a song placement isn’t rocket science exactly.) So as expected Bhai does win. But how? The stakes are dialled up. He leaps over two speeding cars that come his way on the WALL OF THE WELL a la Spidey, to climb atop his bike on the other side to complete the victory lap. Again,this dalliance with speeding motor vehicles doesn’t happen on flat ground, but on the motherfucking wall of a circular well. And the response, uninterrupted wolf whistles! Now tell me how many people can pull this off and get away with whistles.
Salman is an emotion that personifies all things larger than life; an alter ego, an actor we love enough to overlook his inability to act. All of this is another way of saying, he’s one of the last surviving superstars of Indian cinema. Watching Bharat made me realize this yet again.
Normally, actors draw their identity from the characters they play, whereas with Salman it’s always the opposite. He doesn’t dissolve into the role, but it dissolves into him, drawing from his persona. What is on display isn’t the acting chops, but textbook narcissism which somehow seems to be drawing men to it by the million, in a state of trance that usually precedes an elongated orgasm. That’s the thing about phenomenons, they get harder with each attempt to get to the bottom of. And what people don’t understand, they begin to resent. They get on a high horse and condescend the admirers/supporters of a personality, by branding them a certain way. Like with Salman fans, who are collectively assumed to be misogynistic deviants who worship and emulate the toxic charm of an iffy celebrity who’s far from being a model citizen. We saw this presumptuous elitism backfire on the Modi haters this elections. And looking at the opening figures of Bharat, it’s an encore at the movies for Salman haters as well. There’s no rational way to gauge a popular wave, than humbly acknowledging it from the other side.
Coming back to Bharat, first things first. Age finally seems to be catching up with Bhai. Especially in the initial portions, when he’s playing a young man. And the fact that a much younger actress plays his mother and an even younger one plays his love interest makes this more atrocious than it already is. Bhai, love you to the moon and back. But please be a little, just a little age appropriate onscreen. That said, he totally rocks the five ‘o’ clock shadow and the salt ‘n’ pepper. Not to mention the swag and screen presence which seem to be intact.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there has been another director in the recent past who’s leveraged Salman’s persona as holistically as Ali Abbas Zafar. When most collaborators with Salman can’t resist the temptation to keep pulling the trigger, Ali knows when not to. Be it Sultan, Tiger or now Bharat, he seems to imbue Bhai with a touch of innocence, vulnerability, fragility, heart that lend a new dimension to the larger than life characters he portrays, which make us not just hoot, but root for him. If the breakdown before the mirror in Sultan was beautifully vulnerable, there’s a similar emotional high point here in the preclimax, where the actor within completely overtakes the star.
And I think screaming like a neanderthal who’s ass is on fire, every time Bhai’s shirt comes off isn’t going out of vogue. Agreed, one’s more likely to stumble upon a gym than a pebble these days and being muscular isn’t that big a deal as it used to be. But the ritual of straight men going nuts at the first sight of Bhai’s exposed torso, is a very personal heave of nostalgia. An unsophisticated, primal doff of hat to the beloved legacy of a man, whose body of work is inseparable from his body.