Salman isn’t actually a wrestler or anything in this, but there are soooooooo many fight scenes! And I kind of feel like I am getting a glimpse of what life was like in the Khan household when all the boys were young. I’m picturing lots and lots of wrestling and fake fighting between brothers.
Obviously, the reason I watched this movie is that it is the only time Salman and Kajol truly co-starred. And because I friend recommended it. The friend who first mentioned it to me saw it in theaters, and loved it and loved the soundtrack and it was her favorite movie. And then a few weeks/months later, she went to see Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and immediately fell even more in love with that movie/soundtrack, and this one got kind of forgotten. Which I suspect might be what happened in a general sense as well, it was nominated for a bunch of FilmFare Awards and stuff, and yet you never really hear about it any more.
(Not counting this as a co-star, because it’s really more of a glorified friendly appearance)
Anyway, it’s cute! Kajol’s all bouncy and pranky, Salman is a tormented rich boy, there is a cool college gang and a spunky village girl, and there is Dharmendra being Dharmendra as only he can be. Only, it definitely feels like the whole thing perks up and gets more interested once the fight scenes start. I mean, the big dramatic confrontation at the end, they don’t even both with dialogue! It’s just Dharmendra shouting with no sound as the background music swells up! But the fight scenes have all kind of interesting angles and camera work and layers and layers to them.
The fight scenes are also the only time all 3 Khan brothers are working together, Arbaaz and Salman in front of the camera and Sohail behind. They are all working very hard, but there is also a sort of confidence and joy to it that isn’t there when they are separated. Even Salman’s chemistry with Kajol (which is fine, enough to successfully sell the romance) fades away compared to his chemistry with Arbaaz. And the camera work, which is fairly weak for most scenes (not unforgiveably so, but I wasn’t surprised to learn it was Sohail’s first job as a director), gets all inventive and fast and interesting when Arbaaz and Salman on together.
Although Dharmendra and Salman have pretty great chemistry too! In their opening scene together, it suddenly struck me that, although this was the first time they had acted together, Dharmendra must have known him almost his entire life. Seeta Aur Geeta was filming when Salman was 5, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Dharmendra and Salim had run into each other even before than and he knew the family. Actually, now that I think about it, Dharmendra would have known not just Sohail, Salman, and Arbaaz from childhood, but also Kajol. He was in 7 movies with Tanuja, from 1965 to 1988. It’s no wonder that the Dharmendra scenes are my second favorite, after the fights. Not just because Dharmendra is always awesome, but because there is such warmth between all the actors.
(Here is Dharmendra with Kajol’s Mom in one of my favorite song sequences. I’ve never seen the movie, but the song is so cute!)
Third favorite bits would be the romance. Kajol is, you know, Kajol. So, glowing and wonderful and vibrant onscreen. And I like that they come together almost immediately as friends. There’s no trumped up conflict or misunderstandings. They are mutual pranksters and con artists, and they recognize each other, and she is welcomed into his harmless college gang.
There’s also no prevarication about how he feels about her, right off the bat she arranges to over hear him confess a strange interest in her. He follows her through the halls until she agrees to talk to him, and he immediately spills his whole life story (wealthy parents who give him money instead of love). And he gets into the first Arbaaz-Salman fight because he mistakes Arbaaz for a rival.
What is kind of neat, is that Kajol’s character plays things a bit closer to the vest. Yes, she likes him. And she helps him once he arrives in their village. But she keeps her distance a little, doesn’t fully confess her feelings until after Salman has followed her all the way to her home, faced up to her relatives, worked himself half to death and, finally, tamed a horse for her. Only then do they get the full love song.
Although, now that I think about it, the Kajol slight hesitancy goes back to the Arbaaz-Salman connection. Kajol making herself into somewhat of a neutral party means that the fight becomes purely between Arbaaz and Salman, without her getting in the way. Which actually goes back to that first physical fight between them, when she is shoved aside and ignored, and finally gives up on trying to stop it.
Let’s go back to that particularly fight for a moment, because there are some great moments in it. First, there’s the camera stuff. The angles are really cool, it goes from straight on the face, from the perspective of the two fighters, then down at the ground looking up to see Salman’s first punch drive Arbaaz to the ceiling, then later up from above to show Arbaaz’s fist barely missing Salman’s head as it hits the table. That’s just a couple of examples, the whole fight is filled with changes like this, all rapidly edited together to add to the frenetic feeling.
And then there’s the character stuff. Still just talking about this first fight, we start off with Salman rushing up to attack Arbaaz, which reveals his feelings for Kajol. And he hits Arbaaz so hard that he flies up to the ceiling. Which reveals that Salman has the bravery and fighting ability we assumed for his character but hadn’t actually scene until now. And then Arbaaz rallies and hits him, and then all the other members of the college gang one by one. Until Salman comes back and attacks again. So, we see that Arbaaz is quick to anger and fight, but not vicious, willing to stop once his enemies stop attacking. But in Salman he has met his other half, the only person who is willing to keep fighting him.
Here’s the other thing, Salman actually has people in his corner willing to fight for him. Arbaaz’s character is defined by his fighting style, one man against many, in both this scene and the ones that follow it. He is an individual, won’t trust anyone. The one man he finally does trust is the one who rescues him from a fight, taking his side against many enemies. He has been blinded by his tendencies, more willing to trust the man who fights with him against many enemies, than the one who fights against him with many allies. But, of course, that’s a mistake. Salman has many allies because he trusts everyone, he is open and warm and kind to all. That’s also why Dharmendra likes him and invites him back to their house, why he is able to make friends with Kajol to begin with and why, finally, Arbaaz realizes his value. In another huge fight at the end, Salman brings not only himself, but his father along too. And the happy ending is Kajol being welcomed into Salman’s warm and ally-full life (although, I have concerns, I feel like his parents turned around mighty fast!).
So, why am I thinking about this the week Sultan comes out? It’s the fight scenes, mostly. The screen comes alive when they start, they more clearly show the character personalities and strengths than any dialogue could, and Salman does a really good job with them. That’s what I’ll be looking for in Sultan, fights that aren’t just about the fight, but about everything else as well.