In India, the crescent moon of Eid is synonymous with deedar of Salman Khan. Right from Wanted to Sultan, the superstar collects his Eidi at the box office with veteran’s ease. The ‘dil mein aata hoon, samajh mein nahi’ ‘Bhai’ has doggedly transformed his image with Bajrangi Bhaijaan, doing well-written roles rather than sleepwalking through films like Ready and Jai Ho!
Underdog films have this tendency of being predictable. Right from the first frame, you are familiar with the template – A guy/girl from poor family finds his/her calling, approaches a coach, the coach acts pricey but eventually gives in, a montage with ‘motivational song’ to document his/her training sessions, the first loss, the first victory, the downfall and the final fight.
Pick up any sports film, and chances are that you’ll find them adhering to this template. Now the catch here is: How to make this template interesting. Kudos to director Ali Abbas Zafar, who gets it right, by blending melodrama with action to perfection. He achieves what ‘Brothers’, which was a sports film with oodles of yawn-inducing melodrama. Same formula, different approaches. And this is precisely what differentiates one filmmaker from the other.
Salman Khan gives his all to this film, where his hard work and acting skills shine through every frame of Sultan. In hindsight one feels that if Salman Khan is the biggest strength of Sultan, he’s also the film’s biggest weakness. The superstar status of this actor has earned him a reputation of sleepwalking in films with style and swagger. So when he attempts a character-driven film, the ‘star’ stigma attached to him surfaces and the audience cheers aloud the moment they watch their version of ‘Bhai’.
The character of Sultan Khan, the pehelwaan of a Haryana village can never make his presence felt unless he twirls his moustache after ‘dhobi-pachaad’ing his opponents. The bravado triumphs over the character’s emotional moments. Perhaps Ali Abbas Zafar is aware about this fact, which is probably why he conveniently ignores other character artists Sultan might bond with and focuses only on the hero, heroine (Anushka Sharma), hero-ka-friend(Anant Sharma), coaches (Kumud Mishra and Randeep Hooda), event organizer (Amit Sadh), and not Sultan’s family members, except for his grandmother.
Anushka Sharma’s character is badly written and the actor ends up being just another Salman Khan Film Heroine. What begins as a wrestler’s character with feminist shade suddenly morphs into a docile woman sacrificing her dreams. Her look and frame doesn’t suit her character Aarfa, she’s too urban for a role of such kind. Tune into DD sports to watch women’s wrestling match to know what I mean. Here’s where our obsession with stars comes to the fore. But what the heck, it’s a Salman Khan Film so all’s forgiven.
Among other actors, Amit Sadh makes his presence felt through his endearing character. If you notice closely, Amit has a well-written character. His way of interacting with Sultan keeps evolving as the film progresses and by the end, he makes himself believable as his chote-bhai-jaisa. Randeep Hooda is first-rate, as usual and seems to enjoy every bit of this extended cameo role of a trainer. Anant Sharma, as Sultan’s friend makes an interesting debut with an impeccable Haryanvi accent.
Speaking about Harianvi accent, one wishes our filmmakers do away with such ‘realistic indulgence’ in a commercial film like Sultan, by peppering every line with Haryanvi accent. The lead actors, Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma do get the accent right, but after a point of time you start wishing they’d speak ‘normally’.
Sultan, though projects itself as a wrestling film, isn’t about fighting opponents, but one’s inner demons. A protagonist as flawed as any other commoner who tastes unexpected (and convenient, at least on screen) success. Thankfully, here we’re spared of the saccharine strewn ‘Prem’ and swagger-personified ‘Chulbul Pandey’.
Sultan is replete with scenes of the hero facing sarcasm on growing age, huffing and puffing during training sessions, sporting a paunch and struggling to get inside a shirt from the glory years, being slapped by the heroine just for addressing her as his girlfriend and so forth. It is these ‘digressions’ from a regular Salman Khan film that make Sultan endearing and worth watching.
To sum it up, Sultan deserves to be watched only on big screen. After all, it takes a Salman Khan film to blur the lines between multiplex and single screen theatre. The auditorium was abuzz with the audience cheering ‘Sultan’ and ‘Salman’ all through the wrestling scenes (which are too many). Time to offer Salman Khan his Eidi of movie tickets.