Eid aa gayi hai aur dekho who apni Eidi dene aa gaya….Isn’t that the best thing about a Salman Khan film? It always calls for a celebration! And, if the film turns out to be a Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the revelry quadruples. So no matter how much the 2 hours 51 minutes’ runtime tires you, the superstar makes Sultan worth a watch. His scorching star presence gives the film a unique charm. Director Ali Abbas Zafar takes his leading man through an array of emotions. He is seen evolving – from an aimless prankster to a man who falls irrevocably in love to being a fallen star. But there is a major flaw in Sultan. Wrestling is never his true love and hence, he can never make you buy into it. Sultan falls in love with Aarfa – a local wrestler and to win her respect and love, he learns wrestling. “Doctor ki biwi doctor toh pehelwan ki biwi pehelwan…” is his logic. Zafar’s treatment is shaky. He tries to make it a bit of everything – a love story, a sports film, a redemption drama. In trying to find a middle ground between creating 2016’s Chak De India and appeasing Bhai fans with a masala film on Eid, Zafar loses grip over his plot. Neither does his writing have Jaideep Sahni’s (writer of Chak De India) finesse nor does his vision have Shimit Amin’s clarity. It is Zafar’s inadequacies that makes Sultan a slog in parts.
Think about it: an estranged couple, a former Olympic champion seeking his glorious self back and a businessman who would go to any extent to sell his MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) league in this country. A perfect recipe for a Bollywood drama? Absolutely! After three years of dull show and running in heavy losses, Akash (Amit Sadh) is exasperated with his MMA League. The business was his brainchild which fails to take off. When in India, get dusty desis to fight goras. Though the revelation dawns him a tad too late, but he is ready to put up one last fight and give it his all. On his father’s behest, he goes to a small town in Haryana to find Sultan Ali Khan (Salman). Burdened down by his own sorrows, the former Olympic gold medalist has resigned himself to a life of utter complacence. His paunch walks ahead of him and grief overpowers his former canter. The men are desperate for a win in life for their own reasons and Akash convinces Sultan to romance the wrestling ring all over again.
Zafar’s plot is ridden with cliches. There is the resounding title track that does more talking than the superstar himself. Take a tip : Keep quiet and let Salman’s charm do the roaring. He can manage it pretty well without Vishal-Shekhar’s help. The love story is half-baked. Though Anushka Sharma wants to make you cheer for her, she has very little material to dabble with. She is beautifully understated, fiercely arrogant and equally affable. Aarfa’s headstrong nature, as well as the mean streak comes from Anushka. You wish Zafar worked better on this character, she could’ve been explosive. This woman can slap Salman Khan with such confidence and gets him to ride pillion behind her. Oh boy… she gotta be made of something! Salman on his part is refreshingly intense, unpredictably fiery and surprisingly vulnerable despite his brooding personality. He gets a complex character to play with and manages to do complete justice to it. The star in him is never too far behind but he makes a hero out of an underdog. Amit is adequate. Kumud Mishra is wicked. And Randeep Hooda makes the best use of his striking irreverence.
The cast shines but the story gets too contrived. There is persistent emotional manipulation you can’t overlook (let’s not give you spoilers). The love story comes with a whole bunch of needless songs and the break up comes with a few more. The story makes you restless with its frequent cutaways. Time and again Salman calls it melodrama. You wish Zafar tried a little less to hit all the buttons to get you clapping.
But despite its glaring flaws, the one man who keeps you hooked is Salman. Another vanity project, which is far from his best, but he surely knows how to get the crowds hooting. Every dhobi-pachaad move gets your heart fluttering, its predictable climax makes you mutter a prayer for him and no matter how believable the hard punches are, you know he will rise with twice more the vigor. The man is a classic Hindi film hero, who can’t be defeated, who can’t falter and has everyone cheering for him. Sultan is perfectly watchable, Salman’s star power gives the film an edge but it is still an opportunity lost. Expect it to get the cash registers ringing but Sultan will be forgotten after two helpings of Eid’s biryani.
Afterword : By design, Sultan is what Salman does the best – be a superhero. But what’s great is that with every film, this sooperman is getting a little more human. By his own admission this time, in a scene, Sultan says, “Main koi sooperman nahi hoon…” Point noted.