Sultan week continues! Today, let’s talk about Sultan and Ek Tha Tiger! The one other time Salman worked with Yash Raj Studios.
I should say, the one other time he worked with a modern Yash Raj studios. He worked with Karan in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which was partially distributed and produced by Yash Raj, but that was before Yash Raj become what it is today. Before any of the studios were what they are today.
Back when Salman was starting out, movies were produced one at a time, by little companies that just had enough money for one thing at once, and no ability to put an elaborate structure in place, to make long term plans or build infrastructure. And this also affected how the artists worked. They wouldn’t commit fully to any one thing, working multiple films at once, spreading out the risk. And they would enjoy the freedom to choose, using their own judgement as to which film deserved the most of their attention, either because it seemed the most promising or because they had a personal connection to the filmmakers, storyline, or similar.
But now, not so much! I mean, the industry is still much more informal than other non-state supported film industries, and there are still plenty of smaller companies, but the big studios now have multi-year release strategies and filming schedules and all sorts of other things. And they expect the artists who work for them to understand this and to fit into their plans.
Which is why it is so interesting when Salman works for Yash Raj. Yash Raj is the most extreme in expecting their employees, including their lead actors, to put their work for the studio first. And Salman is the most extreme of the top stars in insisting on doing things his way.
Which is why the last film Salman made for Yash Raj is one of their all time top hits. Because it combined the Yash Raj “professional” style with the attitudes and instincts of a Star who insists on thinking for himself (notice, their other all time top hit, Dhoom 3, had a similarly involved and insistent top Star).
Of course, Ek Tha Tiger also had a director who just really really got Salman’s appeal. Although, I think that may also be related to it being a Yash Raj film. From the little that comes out through interviews and so on as to the inner workings of the studio, it sounds like Aditya personally vets the various script ideas brought to him, and the directors, and decides which ones are right to be brought to a top star, which ones will work and which ones are a reach.
Ek Tha Tiger is definitely a film that will work for Salman. What it gets at is the essential sweetness and innocence he has on screen. Combined with confidence and ability. It’s an odd combination, and a hard one to nail. If the balance gets off, it can come off like Salman is “faking” his insecurities in other areas, or only confident in some places because he doesn’t take them seriously. But done just right, as it is here and in Dabangg and in some others, you end up with Salman the brilliant action hero who has the heart and feelings of a shy 20 year old. I mean, films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (really, all the Rajshris) have the same kind of Salman, but it’s not quite the same, because they don’t have the confident action side of his personality, it’s all the sweetness. Or, if you look at something like Wanted or Garv, it’s so much Salman-the-action-guy, that it kind of loses track of Salman-the-sweet-naif.
Ek Tha Tiger kicks it up a notch by explicitly stating that Salman’s romantic character has become out of synch with his experience in other areas. It’s not that it has to be explicitly said, Dabangg did fine by just leaving it to the audience to fill it in that Salman had been so focused on his police career, his family life was such a shambles, and he hadn’t met the right woman before, so when he fell for Sonakshi like a ton of bricks, it turned him into a lover as impatient and unsure and over-whelmed as a teenager. But Ek Tha Tiger makes it a whole running theme! That he has sacrificed his personal life and growth at the alter of serving his country. And therefore, when he meets the right woman, he has no experience or ability to woo her. Or to stop himself from breaking all bounds in his efforts to be with her. It all comes in a rush, breaking a dam that has been built up for 20 years of self-sacrifice in national service.
Every early action sequence becomes a part of the romance, because they are what is keeping him from having his own true love. And the later action sequences take on such a different meaning, because for once he is fighting for love, instead of for a grand political theory. They aren’t just about the action (although that is very well-done, I believe Yash Raj brought in outside fight coordinators), they are about why he is fighting.
What most impressed me in particular was that Ek Tha Tiger sold me on Salman and Katrina as a romantic couple! Not just in the film, but in life! It made me all sad that they had broken up already. Because what it showed was that Salman’s gentle sweetness and childlike joy keeps him young at heart, and the better match for him is someone he is therefore much younger than him in age. At the same time, it showed how his ability to give his whole heart to things can make him an excellent boyfriend. He may be a little impulsive, and a little unpredictable, but that also means that he will drop everything at a moments notice for the sake of those he cares about, which is a great trait to have in a boyfriend.
Ek Tha Tiger is still very much a Salman movie. But it is a Salman movie that took all the planning and resources and experience available on the Yash Raj studio lot and threw it at the idea of him, perfecting and illuminating and enlarging his mystique through the setting they gave him. And this, all of this, is what I want from Sultan. That the fights will be the usual whistle inducing Salman fights, but with an emotional underpinning to them. That we will get to see Salman the confident achiever combined with Salman the lost lover. That it will sell me on why Salman’s weaknesses are really his strengths, and why he is the best possible romantic partner, although it may not be apparent from the start. And most of all, that it will make my heart break for him when his pure innocence and goodness comes up against heartbreak.