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Salman Strikes Again

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Directed by:
Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast: Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Amit Sadh, Anant Sharma and others
Rating: Not Applicable for a Salman movie

First the good news, Salman Khan does not sleepwalk through Sultan, he has given his best performance in a long time; since the director Ali Abbas Zafar and his DOP has shot him in a lot of tight close-ups, there is no cheat—the star was involved in the part he played with all his heart.  And it is only Salman Khan’s superstardom that lifts the film —which is collection of every sports movie cliché possible—several rungs higher.  Take him out and the film would collapse.

Zafar realizes that there is nothing new the underdog-to-winner story, so instead of concentrating on the ‘what’ he concentrates on the ‘how’—and this is where the film scores. It is set in rural Haryana, and the characters use the local dialect. The much-reported on phenomenon of Haryana women turning into champion wrestlers (the true story of the Phogat sisters will be told in Aamir Khan starrer Dangal) is used rather effectively.

When the good-for-nothing Sultan (Salman Khan) bumps into Aarfa’s (Anushka Sharma) bike while he is chasing kites, he raises a fist to smack the rider, only to get helmet-whipped and rebuked by a young woman. It’s love at first sight for him, but Aarfa is a wrestling champ, and publicly berates Sultan for his lack of a goal and rejects him for being unworthy of her.

At a relatively late age (there is a reference to him being thirty), he picks up the ropes of wrestling from Aarfa’s father (Kumud Mishra), who is a coach and starts winning tournaments. Aarfa agrees to marry him, and in a nice touch, both of them go on a medal-winning spree.

Then tragedy strikes and they part—this section could have been  better written, enveloping gender roles, the man’s arrogance, the accomplished woman’s resentment, sacrifice, regret and grief. The film also loses its grip from this point onwards. Sultan’s comeback into a new, more aggressive kind of spectator sport, follows the rut—just throwing a variety of foreign fighters against him and raising the level of the obstacles he has to face.  The homily that is repeated often is that the fight is actually within a man; he doesn’t fight the opponent, he fights himself.

Zafar makes sure to retain a strong romantic and emotional core plus a son-of-the-soil rhetoric that will go down well with Salman Khan’s fans. There is a smidgen of progressiveness in the way Aarfa is portrayed, though even a woman whose boasts of hathoda (hammer) instead of a hand is not immune to stalking. Anushka Sharma lends strong support in a film that is all about Salman Khan, along with Anant Sharma as Sultan’s loyal friend, Amit Sadh as a sports promoter and Randeep Hooda as his trainer.  Wrap all this with good music, and there’s a blockbuster all set to break box-office records.

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