Overtime I've observed, that there is a recurring theme in Salman Khan movies. Kids in the movie seem to like him for no reason. Almost always, you'll see a bunch of kids come out of no where and shower love and affection on him. This, and a bunch of other almost Cartoon Network broadcast like scenes randomly show up on screen, to which you are bound to hear some or the other group of people laugh in the theatre. Fans of the actor can directly associate with all this but for us aliens it seems like watching a foreign language movie whose cultural nuances we're hardly familiar with. Can his movies be genuinely liked if we take away these cultural nuances (or as some may call it; Salman-isms) from the equation, like we'd sometimes do while reviewing a foreign language movie? Probably not, because it's not really a cultural issue but just lousy writing for Salman's character, that the writers end up using the same tropes over and over again. But there must to be a movie that shines despite all the fan-pleasing material inserted without any context. Sultan, it seems is that movie.
Divided into three major subplots, Sultan's story is one that hardly ever stated in a sports movie. Sultan doesn't just stop at being a rags to riches movie, it goes beyond and discusses the post-medal story, one that resonates with so many athletes of our time. Third time director Ali Abbas Zafar has a good idea at his hands, which he more or less manages to turn it into a Good enough story which is was inviting enough to sit through the length of the movie.
Adding to that, Zafar directs the wrestling sequences beautifully, managing to capturing the various traits of the game. There's some thrill to be had in watching the state championship wrestling matches. There's genuine earnestness in the training sequences, or the state championships. Anushka Sharma as Aarfa has the right demeanor of an athlete. Salman Khan manages to play the earnest but brash sports star nicely, even though his heavily accented dialogue feels forced and unconvincing but the part that he's really good at, is that of the beaten down, forty-something, has been, Khan just cruises through that part.
Sultan also benefits from a very strong supporting cast. One could argue that Anant Vidhaath actually outperforms the leading crew, in a role which seems he was born for. He's the best of the supporting actors I've seen since, Zeeshan Ayub in Raanjhana and Kumud Mishra in Rockstar. Speaking of Kumud Mishra, he's in the movie too, and leaves a mark as Khan's mentor. The rest of the cast chips in with their witty dialogue, and are the ones to give a realistic setting to the movie. Amit Sadh as the rich owner of a failing sports league is rusty at start but eventually slips into his role and gives a good performance. The movie also benefits from real world MMA fighters who are introduced in the movie as Salman's competitors. Their fighting sequences are convincing and make for an engaging 20-30 minutes which could easily have been a bore!
Sultan is far from perfect though. Along with all the sense-less fan-pleasing content that's randomly inserted into the movie, the movie also fails to provide sufficient depth to any one but Salman's character. The biggest casualty of lazy character sketching is Anushka Sharma's character. Starting of as an ambitious athlete with an eye on the Olympic gold, Her character is abandoned midway, ambitions thrown in the river and all that's left is a sulky face. It's hard to overlook the injustice her character is subjected to in the shadow of being “strong”. Frankly with better writing could have given us a story of not one, but two great athletes.
Anant Vidhaath's character of Govind also deserved greater depth, but all of his acting is put into a role that is ultimately never more than a sidekick. The same can be said for Randeep Hooda's character who leaves a lot of questions in the audience's mind, the writers give him a convincing build up but ultimately abandon him, to make way for more of the MMA content which could frankly have been cut down.
It's been a long time since I last saw a decent Salman Khan movie. Go in with Modest Expectations and a broader tolerance zone for Salman Khan's various fan-pleasing tricks, and you'll hear an interesting sports story, one that's firmly rooted into the current state of Indian Sport, incredibly aware of the times we're in and a reminder of what Sports are really about.
Rating : *** (Watch it for Anant Vidhaath's terrific performance and a good story)