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Sultan review: Salman's restrained performance saves film from being a drag

Release Date: 06 Jul 2016 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 50min

Cinestaan Rating

Suparna Thombare

Ali Abbas Zafar’s wrestling saga works mainly due to strong performances by Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma.

Film: Sultan (U/A)
Rating: 3/5

A 30-year-old man learns wrestling and trains in a month to go on to win the state-level wrestling championship. The same man, aged 40, trains to be an MMA fighter in six weeks and goes on to win the MMA championship. Impossible? Well, nothing is impossible for Sultan Ali Khan aka Salman Khan.

Akash (Amit Sadh) is in search of an Indian wrestling hero to save his failing Pro Takedown, an Indian MMA (mixed martial arts) franchise. He approaches Haryanvi wrestling hero Sultan, who is now doing an office job and collecting funds for an unknown cause.

A long flashback reveals how Sultan was inspired to become a wrestler after he was rejected in love by state-level women’s wrestling champion Aarfa (Anushka Sharma). He takes up the sport to gain respect in her eyes. After she sees him achieve what he had set out to, Aarfa has a change of heart and marries him. Both win medals for India in international tournaments and everything is hunky-dory.

Things take a turn for the worse when Aarfa sacrifices her dream of winning an Olympic gold for Sultan’s happiness. The ups and downs in Sultan and Aarfa’s relationship form the core of this film.

Salman Khan the star gives his fans tons of opportunities to cheer and whistle for him as he fights in the akhada (traditional mud pit) and in the ring several times through the film. He also offers some amount of song and dance and punchy dialogues. At the same time he makes that rare effort to be his character – someone whose rise and downfall are governed by his undying love for a woman. And it is this combination of his stardom and acting effort that make this film worth a watch. As Sultan, Salman Khan is heroic in the ring, but fallible outside it.

Director Ali Abbas Zafar makes an effort to stay as close to reality as he possibly can with a star-driven mainstream film. The MMA sequences are well choreographed and shot. The director avoids the use of melodrama. The love and drama are relatable. But he chooses the predictable sports drama template to tell the story. The down-and-out sportsman, his training, and then his victory – we see this journey not once, but twice.

The film loses steam several times, making some of the MMA sequences in the latter part tedious. The troubles in Aarfa and Sultan’s love life could have been told in a taut manner – you do not need 10 scenes to show the love and longing. The Jag Ghoomeya song, though a lovely composition by Vishal-Shekhar, intrudes into the storyline, delaying the climax. Also, the film is 20 minutes too long and fatigue does set in towards the end.

The supporting actors are well cast, especially Anant Sharma, who plays Sultan's friend and supporter. The young actor makes a mark. Anushka Sharma, as the hot-tempered ambitious wrestler, creates an endearing chemistry with Khan, who matches her performance in his inimitable style. Unlike in most of Khan's films, the female lead in this one has a lot to do, and Sharma pulls off her character with deftness.

It is obvious that Khan has worked twice as hard on this film. Apart from the training, and getting the sport right, he touches several high points in the emotional and dramatic sequences. In one notable scene, he looks at his flabby self in the mirror with shame. Then, feeling frustrated and angry, he tries to wear his shirt. The script allowed Khan to deliver a rare restrained and intense performance, which works for the film.

We watch every Salman Khan film for the star, who wins us over with his antics and muscle power. And you will watch this one for the same reason. The added bonus is that you also get a glimpse at Salman Khan the actor and Sultan the character.

Cast: Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Amit Sadh, Randeep Hooda
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Producer: Yash Raj Films
Music: Vishal-Shekhar
Runtime: 170 minutes