To call Salman Khan’s latest box-office monster ‘Sultan’ a critic-proof film would be an understatement. In fact, it’s a no-brainer considering the slam-bang action that we were promised right from the beginning. While that’s true for most of Salman, aka Bhai’s film, Sultan conditions our minds so well to empathise with the travails of its protagonist, Sultan Ali Khan (Salman Khan), that we are forced to revel his triumphs despite its predictable plot, especially in the second half. So, what’s it ‘X’ factor that makes ‘Sultan’ a crowd-pleaser? It’s Salman Khan himself. Doh! Did we even have to say that! But what’s interesting about the film is what it does with its subject outside the wrestling zone.
We have Sultan Ali Khan, a has-been wrestler from Rewari, Haryana, struggling to come to terms with his personal loss. His wife, Aarfa (Anushka) refuses to forgive him, although the secret isn’t revealed until much later into the film. Amidst these circumstances, Akshay (Amit Sadh) comes to Rewari in an attempt to convince Sultan to get back into the ring one more time. This time, however, the stakes are higher than ever before.
Perhaps, Sultan is not just one film, but two separate films that are so beautifully interwoven that one compliments the other. Maybe, one story completes the other one. While one part of the film deals with Sultan’s rise in the wrestling ring and the fame that comes with it, ‘Sultan’ – the film is also an interesting socio-drama where its lead protagonist talk about a lot of social issues that don’t quite find a place in a mainstream film. Take for instance, Aarfa’s fiery monologue where she questions what exactly does Sultan wants in his life and later tell him, why no girl is likely to respect him. It’s a smack down on every other film where a love story is tantamount to borderline stalking. Or even that instance where Sultan and Aarfa talk about blood donation. In fact, Sultan is perhaps the best pitch that the Indian Government could have ever asked for to encourage people to donate blood and save lives. However, my favourite part of the film are the conversations revolving girl child and how well Ali Abbas Zafar uses Salman Khan’s innocence and Anushka Sharma’s ferocity to drive home the point that female infanticide is a social evil which needs to be eradicated from the society.
Then, there’s the wrestling part of the film itself, which delivers most of the crowd-pleasing moments in the film. We see Sultan emerging as a stubborn guy who wants to be the ‘king of the ring’ at any cost. To boost his morale, he abides by the principle that he’s fighting against himself, and this never-give-up attitude takes him to greater heights. It feels like a fairytale when Sultan is in the ring and just when he seems invincible, age catches up with him. The second half of the film turns into an underdog’s story and how one man beats all odds to be a champion. If a certain portion of the film reminds you of the Rocky series, then you aren’t alone. It was meant to be so and there’s not a single element which seems rather odd when it comes to progression of Sultan’s characterisation. This means, the plot becomes predictable and how much you root for Sultan, the ageing wrestler in the ring, depends on your tolerance level to see him taking one punch after another. If only there was a little more drama to spice things up…but then, the film already feels like it was bang for the buck.
What is it about Salman Khan’s films that, of late, seem to defy everything and emerge as a winner? A closer look at how two of his recent films (Bajrangi Bhaijaan and now Sultan) are structured, there seems to be a pattern in how the actor’s role is written. In a lot of ways, he’s the microcosm of our prejudices and flaws, and as the story unfolds, he turns into a mirror of who we (the audience) are and what we ought to be doing, ideally. In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, he starts off as a deeply-pious man who is in two minds whether he must help a young Muslim girl, who’s desperately in need of help. In the end, he sets aside his ideologies and figures out that love and empathy are far more important than everything else. In ‘Sultan’, it’s all about making peace with yourself, fighting against your ego and arrogance, and being a man who commands respect. His charisma is in tact, but it’s in those moments where Salman Khan gets into the skin of his character that Sultan finds its true spirit.
Anushka Sharma is fabulous as Aarfa, a wrestler herself, who sacrifices her dreams for the sake of Sultan. She’s fierce and even in parts where she barely speaks, she carries plenty of pain and gravitas. Amit Sadh and Randeep Hooda play their parts to the T and Anant Sharma, who plays Sultan’s friend Govind, is terrific as a reliable sidekick. At a run time of close to 2 hours 45 minutes, Sultan delivers enough kicks and punches to keep us hooked on to all the action. But the soul of the film lies in its conversations about life, goals and stoking the fire within. Everything else is just a garnishing to keep us delighted that we are watching a Bhai’s film on Eid.