By Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah:
In 2014, on the sets of “Koffee with Karan”, Salim Khan of the legendary scriptwriter duo Salim-Javed, made an interesting observation in the presence of his son and actor Salman Khan: “Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) had the great ability of accurately ‘projecting’ a character on the silver screen. Salman also has that same ability of projection.” It is often observed that the critics have never ranked Salman very high in terms of acting. At one point in his career, his abs and biceps seemed to be the lone components attached to his persona alongside his judicial trials. But is it really possible not only to sustain but successfully reign in the highly competitive Bollywood for more than 25 years, with just a muscular body? Isn’t there something special in the Salman Khan story which has made him the heartthrob of viewers – generations after generations?
From the quintessential lover boy, Prem, of Sooraj Barjatya’s 1989 classic “Maine Pyar Kiya” to the very recent ‘Haryane ka sher-Haryane ki shaan-Sultan Ali Khan’ – Salman Khan has proved all along that his on-screen persona has every component which an Indian common man/woman seeks to find in a matinee idol. His films never resort to anything controversial for getting publicity. Ever since the Prabhu Deva directed the 2009 blockbuster “Wanted”, Salman seemed to have reinvented himself with larger-than-life movies like “Dabangg”, “Dabangg 2”, “Kick” etc. due to which he was equated with Rajinikanth of late. But no sooner had we assumed him to be another Bollywood Superman, in 2015 he surprised even his critics with the heartwarming movie “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, followed by Rajshri Productions’ “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” –announcing the comeback of Barjatya’s Prem from the “Hum Aapke Hain Koun” days! And this Eid, Salman stormed into the movie screens with the much-awaited “Sultan”. So what does Ali Abbas Zafar’s “Sultan” have in store?
Although the attempt of the director of making it a complete sports film was not quite successful, yet, when the audiences leave the theaters, they feel more inspired and encouraged than earlier to face the tough battles in life (or should I say in the akhada of life?) with the same fighting spirit that Sultan exhibits in the movie – something which speaks volumes about qualitative aspect of this film. The last moments of the film aptly reflect the essence of any fight in our life which is all about fighting what lies within and that everyone is invincible unless one concedes defeat to oneself. Moreover, the character of Sultan didn’t know English – the knowledge of which is often considered as a sign of superiority vis-à-vis someone who doesn’t know it rather than considering it to be just a medium of communication. But even then, it doesn’t stand as a barrier to Sultan’s success and with his Haryanvi accented English itself, he goes on to win all titles – from Commonwealth to the Olympic Gold medal.
The movie also raises pertinent issues like the status of women in the male-dominated societies of India revolting against which Aarfa – the woman protagonist of the movie – brilliantly essayed by Anushka Sharma, chooses to become a pehlwan (wrestler). It is also interesting to note that the film is set in Haryana where instances of female foeticide are alarmingly high. But ironically, the very sexism and patriarchy which the visibly strong Aarfa chooses to fight against, engulf her completely by forcing her to conform to the standards of an ideal wife, thereby sacrificing her dream of competing in the Olympics and taking satisfaction in her husband’s success – perhaps tacitly hinting at the harsh reality of Indian societies. This is where the film fails to drive home the point of women’s empowerment which it was trying to make by even showing Sultan and Aarfa’s little daughter wrestling with her parents at the end of the movie.
Ali Abbas Zafar – the director of “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan” and “Gunday” who religiously belongs to Yash Raj Films – has tried to break Salman free from his ‘Dabangg’ Khan image and make him more humane, fallible and weak at times yet capable of overcoming all odds with the sheer force of perseverance – something in line with the character of Pawan from “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”. The strength of this movie lies in its robust story, acting and Salman himself! The music by Vishal-Shekhar is power packed with Papon’s soulful rendition of “Bulleya”, the peppy number “Baby ko Bass pasand hai”, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Jag Ghumeya” and the ever inspiring Sultan theme song.
The film divides itself into three parts – the young Sultan before getting into wrestling, Sultan – the World Champion of wrestling and the broken and middle-aged Sultan regaining his mojo in the Pro Takedown freestyle wrestling championship. The humour in the first part is indeed entertaining. The second part demolishes all attempts of the director to build the human image of Salman as within just one month of training the heartbroken lover, Sultan learns wrestling and emerges as the state champion and subsequently wins all the titles including the Olympic medal! Despite this difficult to fathom and superhuman achievement, this part takes a twist with Sultan getting arrogant day-by-day with humongous success and ultimately the death of his just-born child. This leads to our hero’s separation with his wife and, therefore, he leaves the akhada forever.
But as we would see in the predictable third part, which is the heart of the movie and where Salman too appears more engaged in quality acting, Sultan rises like the Phoenix thanks to the surprise package aka freestyle wrestling trainer named Fateh Singh played by Randeep Hooda. If the film has Govind (played by Anant Vidhaat Sharma), Sultan’s man Friday as an important component, Randeep emerges as the next best thing about this whole movie after Salman. Amit Sadh as the Pro Takedown owner Aakash, brilliantly plays the role he’s entrusted with after his much-lauded performance in “Kai Po Che”. There would be no one in the cinema hall who wouldn’t have felt goosebumps when Sultan thrashes his opponent in the very first match with his typical wrestling move (or as they say, Sultan ka daav) described by the commentators in the film as desi dhobi pachar.
This is the magic of Salman Khan where he doesn’t necessarily need to act and say a raunchy dialogue or a catchy one-liner but a typical glance of his eyes or a particular action sequence would be enough to make the viewers go gaga over their favourite hero’s performance. Critics may find no logic in it, so-called intellectually sound individuals may find it bizarre and foolish but the viewers have always loved Salman for whatever he performs in his films with his typical Bollywood persona for the last twenty-five years. Sultan is another addition to this magnificent journey! Make no mistake, Salman has indeed lived the character of Sultan in this movie!
Featured image credit: Milind Shelte/India Today Group/Getty Images.