Well, that’s easy, they share a director. What I am curious about is what elements the director might bring between the two films. Especially if Sultan came about through the same process as Fan, that is, if it was always the end goal for Ali Abbas Zafar and his early films were just training.
I was fascinated in the interviews surrounding Fan with the glimpse we got into the Yash Raj mentoring process. With Aditya Chopra picking out young aspiring directors, bringing them through an assistant director apprenticeship, guiding them towards good choices for their first films, and finally helping them get the cast and funding and everything else they need for their dream projects. And it sounds like Ali Abbas Zafar went through a similar process getting to Sultan that Maneesh Sharma went through getting to Fan.
Ali started with assisting on Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Tashan, New York, and Badmaash Company for Yash Raj. Then he got to make his first picture, Mere Brother ki Dulhan, with two up and coming actors and a top actress, and his second picture, Gunday, with a similar balance of two up and coming actors and a top actress. And now this, Sultan, the big time with a top top top actor, and a top actress, and an epic scale, and length, and story.
There are a couple of non-Yash Raj films in his list, the one that really leaps out at me is Marigold. I mean, Marigold would always leap out at me, because it is a weird weird movie. Part of that strange little subset of culture clash flicks from the early 2000s, along with Outsourced, and what’s that other one? The actor who comes to India? Anyway, Marigold is obviously different from those because it has an actual real hero from Indian film in it, Salman!
The director of Marigold is from Hollywood (and also has the largest private collection of Oz memorabilia, which doesn’t have anything to do with with anything, I just find it interesting), so working with him would mean Ali Abbas Zafar would have that little bit extra experience, just like Satyajit Ray working with Renoir or Maneesh Sharma going to that 2 year program in LA. Not that Hollywood style filmmaking is superior to Indian (if anything, I think it’s worse), but it’s always helpful to have different experiences.
Much more importantly than any of that, of course, is that he worked on a film with Salman right at the beginning of his career. I don’t remember hearing that mentioned in any of the pre-release interviews yet, but I hope it does come up, because I am super curious if it had any effect on his plans for Sultan. That is, if he has had the idea since then, and if it was always for Salman.
Okay, in a weird way, this brings me to Mere Brother ki Dulhan, finally. Mere Brother ki Dulhan is an incredibly light rom-com. Like, there is basically nothing there. Younger brother hangs with bride while working on wedding planning, falls in love, they have to trick the families so they can get married instead of her marrying the older brother as planned. That’s it.
The only thing that makes it interesting is if you read it as a meta commentary on incredibly light rom-coms. This isn’t my idea, by the way, it’s from a friend who gave a presentation at a conference I was at, but it is a BRILLIANT idea. Our hero is a filmmaker, his brother chooses him to find a bride, he finds the perfect filmi bride, and then to reach the happy ending, they create the perfect filmi storyline for their families. Once you start watching it like that, as a meta statement on what is a hero and a heroine and a film romance, the evidence is everywhere. I mean, the heroine’s name is “Dimple Dixit” for goodness sake!
The little bit of sincere romance that is there is nicely done, and gives me hope for the romance in Sultan. What I like is how calm and easy it is. There’s no stupid misunderstandings or fights. They met each other years ago, and without really saying anything directly they understood that they really liked each other but it wasn’t the right time for it. How cool is that? In a romance from anywhere, India or Hong Kong or America or anywhere? To have them not get together because they just mutually understand it isn’t the right time for it, with no big discussion needed?
And then when they do come together, again, minimal drama! They recognize each other right away from their past interaction, but don’t make a big deal about it, and then they finally do fall in love just by hanging out and being themselves. And their big love declaration is followed by a frustrated “NOW you tell me! It’s almost too late!”, not a huge love song or dramatic sobbing. The most dramatic part is also the funniest part, when Katrina drugs and drags away Imraan to elope with her. And then he wakes up, tells her they need to go back home and have a different plan, and the whole thing never comes up again. I love it!
The best part is that, throughout the film, the two of them are in their own little world, with their secret adventures and secret past and, finally, secret plan to solve everything. It’s a lovely thing, to have the two of them part of this little secret world, even more so than the usual hero’s friends and brothers and heroine’s mother and father and friends. That “our own little world” feeling definitely seems to be coming across in the love songs so far from Sultan.
And the heroine is great. I’m not really a fan of Katrina (is anyone?), but it’s a good role for her and she is directed really well for her strengths. She gets to be the free and happy and modern kind of girl that she plays well. And the directing and script supports her enough that she almost seems to have a personality. Which makes me really excited to see what Ali does with Anushka, who has all kinds of personality and promise. Her early teaser trailer seems to have good indications.
But the big thing is the meta stuff about film. The whole second half is Katrina and Imraan working together to create the standard film storyline. The passionate romance between the groom and his past love, the elopement, the sudden arranged marriage between the younger sibling and the abandoned groom. They have the dialogue, the shy glances and sighs, the whole thing. And the families are eating it up! The plan works because both fathers fall for this very sentimental story of the heartbroken bride and sympathetic brother of the groom.
(when you have a whole song called “Madhubala”, you are definitely in the film meta point)
See, that is what I want to see brought into Sultan! Because it feels like, maybe, if it is done right, and if Ali really did have the idea since Marigold, this whole thing could be a nice little statement about Salman’s career. His youthful enthusiasm and success, his unsuccessful years, and his come back in the end with maturity and passion and heart. The same touch of using film to comment on film that he brought in as early as Mere Brother ki Dulhan could be used to make a much deeper statement about how India treats its film heroes, what the heroes have inside of them that keeps them going, and what it is to peak so early in life (like Salman at age 24 in Maine Pyar Kiya) and just keep going for the next 26 years.