Synopsis – A romantic action drama based on the life of fictional Haryana based wrestler & mixed martial arts specialist Sultan Ali Khan.
My Take – It is a well known fact among my family & friends, that I cannot be termed as what is now days called ‘a Bhai fan’. Yes! I have openly stated my dislike of his choice films, more than his headline worthy personal endeavors or derogatory statements. I have again and again questioned or should I say interrogated his ‘fans’ on what he brings to the table in matters of cinema as I still believe he has an upper hand in the deteriorating quality of Bollywood films year by year and is he really the man the youth should look up to? Especially considering India as a country has given more subtle & greater personalities. Nevertheless, their is no denying the star power Salman Khan backs. Since 2010 (the year the very enjoyable Dabangg released), his fan following seems to have multiplied itself to infinity, making him the only actor in Bollywood whose star power can sell a mediocre film into 100 crores in a matter of few days. He is occasionally a good actor, but as if now he is more of a brand which the producers/distributors sell & laugh all the way to the bank. While the quality & content of his films over the past six years have been questionable (Bodyguard WTF was that?), it all seemed to have changed with critical & commercial success of last year’s Kabir Khan directed Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Despite his previous films being commercially success thanks to his enormous fan following, Bajrangi Bhaijan did something which no one though it would – it won over haters and the classier audience for its heart, message & Salman‘s charm. While the overzealous trailers of this YRF film seemed to show Salman Khan is back to his old tricks again, I as a viewer decided to watch this film with an open mind. And guess what I am glad, as this film turned out to be quite the entertainer. Sure, with a run time a time of 170 minutes, he does get to do what he is known for – potty humor, wooing a girl half his age, running around, beating down men shirtless & displaying his unimaginative dance moves, but beyond all this antics his efforts as a wrestler is sure to win his dictators all over. The story follows Sultan Ali Khan (Salman Khan), a wayward cable operator in remote town in Haryana. His only past times include hanging out with his good for nothing pals and taking up challenges to be a kite-runner. During one of his misadventures with kites, he runs into Aarfa (Anushka Sharma). Aarfa herself is a wrestler, state level winner, has done her education in Delhi, and runs a wrestling training school along with her father Barkat (Kumud Mishra) in the village. Barkat and Aarfa are very passionate of wrestling and their dream is of Aarfa winning Olympic Gold Medal. Aarfa makes it clear that she only wants to get married to a wrestler and Sultan joins Aarfa’s wrestling Aakhada to get trained to be a wrestler. He makes it to the state selection and gets married to Aarfa. As Sultan’s fame increases, Aarfa sacrifices her Olympic opportunity to become a mother. Sultan starts winning bout after bout including tasting success at the Asian as well as the Olympic games. Success makes him arrogant and it slowly blinds him with power. He heads for Turkey to win an international bout despite Aarfa requesting him to stay back as her delivery date is fast approaching. Sultan leaves anyway. He receives the news that Aarfa has given birth to a boy. Ecstatic, he heads back to India and that’s when tragedy strikes. Years, later Akash Oberoi (Amit Sadh), a young businessman, is given a last chance from the board members and investors to revive his failing venture Pro-Take Down, an MMA championship. Acting on his father suggestion, Akash travels to rural India to get Sultan to be the first Indian to participate in the championship. While the the first half of the film is more of the run of the mill underdog story, its post interval where the film picks up its pace & goes full throttle. While the first-hour takes us to our hero’s past, where the romance cutely blossoms with the hero & the heroine, its the second-hour when the film comes to its truest. You watch the hero beat down & come up right from the pit. For a long time Salman‘s movie have defied good stories and screenplay but have managed to gross tons of money riding just on his star power, its good to see how slowly the change is coming. I say slow as this film is not without faults. Director Ali Abbas Zafar (Gunday, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan), despite picking up double duty here as the director and writer gives us a plot which is ridden with cliches. There is the resounding title track that does more talking than the superstar himself. I personally would have seriously preferred to mute the title track and let Salman’s charm do the roaring. He can manage it pretty well without musician duo Vishal-Shekhar’s help. The love story is half-baked. The pairing of Salman & Anushka never works. It never seems like that this two are in love, it just seems wrong. Though the very talented Anushka Sharma (probably the best actor in the whole cast list) wants to make you cheer for her, she has very little material to dabble with. She is beautifully understated, fiercely arrogant and equally affable. Aarfa’s headstrong nature, as well as the mean streak comes from Anushka. You wish director Ali Abbas Zafar worked better on this character, she could’ve been explosive. This woman can slap ‘Bhai’ with such confidence and gets him to ride pillion behind her. Oh boy she gotta be made of something! There are a couple of stand out scenes here and there, but somewhat 90 minutes into the film comes a short and rather remarkable scene. As the former wrestling champion, stands in front of the mirror and stares at his bare top half, once a mass of rippling muscle, now flabby and undefined. Face twisted in disgust, he glares at his reflection until, suddenly, he snaps, grabbing his shirt and trying unsuccessfully to cover up the evidence of his decline. Then, he breaks down. The camera stays with him, just long enough to move past “strong man in agony” and access something a little more uncomfortable.
From an actor who isn’t known for putting himself out there emotionally, this is unexpected stuff. One might assume, both from the roles he takes up and his public persona, that Salman considers vulnerability to be beneath him. Yet, in this moment, he’s as open as he’s ever been on screen. Whether playing a plain-spoken fighter who’s at a low point in his life and in need of redemption triggered something within him is impossible to say and too irresistible not to speculate on. By the time we’ve arrived at Sultan’s moment with the mirror, Aakash has persuaded him to return to the ring, despite him being 40, unfit and unaccustomed to MMA fighting. Though it was clear even in the trailer that this would be a hard-won redemption story, writer and director Ali Abbas Zafar doesn’t take any chances, getting the film to literally say “underdog”. The editing is a weak point and the film definitely could go a long way to be trimmed by at least 15-20 minutes. The fight scenes initially and the moment Salman Khan becomes the world champion is too easy to digest. The film throws a bucket filled with sports movie tropes at the viewer: initial training montage, final-stretch training montage, tough-as-leather coach. Sadly, the fights themselves aren’t memorable; most of them involve Salman taking a lot of punishment before disposing of opponents, quickly and unconvincingly, with a signature slam. Salman, though, is still beating up people to a pulp here and breaking bones with alarming regularity. He plays a wrestler, a plot point that must have been penciled in just so it could contribute to the high-octane action quotient that is a known part of Khan’s brand of blockbusters. The whole cast shines but the story gets too contrived. There is persistent emotional manipulation you can’t overlook. The love story comes with a whole bunch of needless songs and the break up comes with a few more. The story makes you restless with its frequent cutaways. You wish director Zafar tried a little less to hit all the buttons to get you clapping. But despite its glaring flaws, the one man who keeps you hooked is Salman Khan. Another vanity project, which is far from his best, but he surely knows how to get the crowds hooting. Every dhobi-pachaad move gets your heart fluttering, its predictable climax makes you mutter a prayer for him and no matter how believable the hard punches are, you know he will rise with twice more the vigor. Salman as Sultan is Sultan minus the star power and swag of Salman Bhai. He is so not himself in this movie which is such a breath of fresh air. There is a line in the movie where Sultan says that he is not a superman and it is exactly what is shown in the movie. Even though, only Bhai can outrun a train! Salman is refreshingly intense, unpredictably fiery and surprisingly vulnerable despite his brooding personality. He gets a complex character to play with and manages to do complete justice to it. Actresses in Salman films rarely get to shine, but here Anushka Sharma gets to do her thing i.e be awesome. She is mind blowing, she literally overshadows the Khan in their combination scenes, be it the pre-interval Hospital scene, or her re- introduction scene in the flashback or the scene where she puts Sultan in his place by slapping him, or the silent reactions to sultan’s information on TV really proves what an excellent actress she is, only if her character was better written. Amit Sadh and Randeep Hooda are likable. There is no denying Salman Khan is a classic Hindi film hero, who can’t be defeated, who can’t falter and has everyone cheering for him. Sultan is perfectly watchable, Salman’s star power gives the film an edge but this film is a hope that we the ‘non fans’ can dare to expect better from him. On the whole, ‘Sultan’ is a predictable sports drama highly elevated by Salman‘s charm and performance.
Directed – Ali Abbas Zafar
Rated – PG
Run Time – 170 minutes