Sultan movie cast: Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Amit Sadh, Kumud Mishra, Randeep Hooda, Anant Sharma
Sultan movie director: Ali Abbas Zafar
There’s a moment somewhere in the beginning of the film when Salman Khan’s character comes to a halt at a rail crossing, and waits, just like the rest of us do, for the train to pass.
In that instant we know that Sultan is about to push twin boundaries. Of a star’s scope, and of mainstream Bollywood. That this will not be the super-human, super-hero Bhai who has been shown crossing the tracks just a whisker ahead of a rushing locomotive from one of his several forgettable flicks. That this will be a Khan who has to, literally, do a lot of heavy-lifting to win the crown.
And win it he does. ‘Sultan’ has him breaking free from Bhai-giri bondage by getting his character to crack and bleed. His down-and-out wrestler has foibles, is fallible, is human. Sultan Ali Khan has faults, and is punished for it. Because of which Sultan scores, and delivers a solid entertainer with heft.
It isn’t as if Sultan doesn’t struggle with its profusion of familiar tropes. There’s your underdog-to-champion, in which child-like Jat Sultan is shown starting from nothing, becoming a world champion in no time at all (yes, there is some sweat and tears involved in the training, but not too much, because hey, this is Bollywood ). There’s a romance which involves risible songs and dialogue ( ‘Baby ko bass pasand hai’, with a shift-and-lift-of-male-and-female derriers). But the girl in question, played by Anushka Sharma with sparkle, is a wrestler herself. She is a woman with ambition, and she’s made to talk of uplifting ‘mothers’ and ‘sisters’ in patriarchal Jatland.
There’s the meteoric rise and fall-by-arrogance, but enough time is taken for us to register the downswing of our hero, even as we know that the upswing is just a few frames away. There’s the cynical trainer (Randeep Hooda) who keeps chomping on food items, and who will, we know, help slap our out-of-shape, overweight wrestler into shape. This one is the most Hollywood of them all, reminding us of all similar trainers. Remember Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby?
But director Ali Abbas Zafar surprises us by keeping the slack moments mostly at bay in this 170-minutes enterprise. Some lines are distinctly populist, but spry enough to make you crack up: Hooda has a lovely one about ‘asli Jats’. The supporting cast injects freshness, with the reliable Mishra as the ‘akhara-owner’ and father of Anushka, who wants his daughter to go places. Amit Sadh plays it nicely as the owner of an Indian pro-Mixed Martial Arts team, even if he owns a trope of his own: never say die. And the hero’s best friend, one of the oldest tropes in the book, is a new face (Anant Sharma) who does the Haryanvi accent to a T.
The support is able, but the star holds firm at the centre. Swelling background music threatens to mar even the most effective parts, which is something most films should watch out for, especially when their lead is willing to go down and dirty. Salman has perfected these rough-hewn, heart-of-gold, man-child parts (Anushka even has a line citing his ‘bachpana’) which coast on his ability to boost ‘desi’, flag-waving patriots who can beat smooth English-speaking rivals to a pulp. Here he takes it further, gets grizzled and grey, and admits to being has-been forty plus. And comes out on top, battered, bloody, but unbent. It is a full-bodied, fully-earned performance, and Salman Khan aces it.
There’s a moment in the film in which Sultan Ali Khan says sorry to a character, and begins earning forgiveness. It is a what if’ moment, especially resonant in the face of his most recent controversy.