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Review: Critics May Not Like Him, But ‘Sultan’ Shows Why Fans Love Salman Khan

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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?

A Still from 'Maine Pyar Kiya'.
A still from ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’.

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
Ali Abbas Zafar. Source: Wikipedia.

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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