I already put up a spoiler-free review, and I’ll be putting up a full summary over the next few days, but in the meantime here are my spoiler-y thoughts.
(for a different perspective, check out moviemavengal’s review)
The reason I really want to do a spoiler-y review, is because Salman’s character and Anushka’s character and their relationship to each other becomes so much deeper and more complex in the second half of the film. But, if you were like me, when you were going into the movie you would be pretty sure that Anushka wouldn’t even make it to the second half. And I want to keep you in suspense if you haven’t seen it so I didn’t want to mention anything about that in my other review!
So long as I am spoiling, I might as well spoil everything, right? It’s actually not that twisty of a plot, the time changes and the fight scenes make it feel longer and complex-er than it is.
So, here we go, WHOLE PLOT: In present day, the promoter for a new mixed martial arts competition in India is about to lose everything. He convinces his financiers to give him one more shot, and then his father advises him to find an Indian fighter for the crowd to cheer for, and the one he wants is “Sultan”.
The promoter goes to the remote town to meet Salman. Who looks old and tired, but can still lift a tractor out of a pothole, so he knows he is the fighter for him. The promoter finds Salman’s old friend and gets his whole life story in flashback.
Salman was a kind of silly and simple boy, who fell in love with Anushka at first sight, when she beat him up for knocking her off her bike. But Anushka is the daughter of a wrestling coach, and has Olympic dreams. So Salman decides to become a wrestler too in order to win her.
At first it is kind of silly and sweet, he just uses training as an excuse to hang out with her and get close. But when he goes to far and lets her know that he thinks of her as his girlfriend, she blows up at him and says that she would never fall in love with a boy like him, he is nothing, he has achieved nothing.
So that’s when Salman gets serious about things, after a heart to heart with his father, and does his hardcore training, racing trains and pulling plows and stuff. And comes back a month later to not only win the regional championship, but beat another fighter way out of his weight class. Anushka is so impressed, she comes up to him after the match and proposes. And then everything is great! Anushka and Salman travel the world together winning international competitions, and are both accepted to the Olympic team.
But then Anushka gets pregnant. Salman is thrilled, and she sets aside her dreams to help him train and carry his child. Salman wins at the Olympics, while she watches from home. And he comes home a little bit off. Less humble, less grounded, less the sweet simple boy who just got into all of this to win her heart.
He has a final competition, the world wrestling federation, the same week as her due date. She asks him to stay back, he refuses, and of course there are complications during the birth. What I didn’t anticipate was that Anushka survives and the baby dies. Not only that, the baby died because it needed blood and it was the same rare blood group as Salman. So if he had stayed back, the baby might have lived.
Now, in the present day, Anushka has left Salman and is living at her fathers, while Salman lives alone and tries to raise money for a blood bank in their town to name after their son. The promoter tracks him down and convinces him to fight in the mixed martial arts competition in order to raise the money for the bank. He tells Anushka he is leaving and asks her to pray for him, and then goes to Delhi.
In Delhi, he has a dark moment confronting how far he has fallen from his prime (the look in the mirror at his gut shot from the trailer), but after that things are pretty easy. I mean, he trains hard and all, but he has no more doubts or fears, he knows he will succeed.
Which is also how most of his competition fights go, he defeats his opponents pretty easily. Meanwhile, back home, Anushka is refusing to even look at the television when he is on it. In the middle of competition, the promoter (who has begun to look on him as a big brother) drags him out to his birthday party, and Salman sings a love song while thinking of Anushka, which hits the internet and makes him into even more of a hero, the “Romeo Wrestler”.
Finally, he comes up against his second to last opponent, a fellow wrestler, who almost beats him. But in the middle of the match, after breaking a rib, he has a vision of Anushka and rises again to win. But then collapses from all his injuries. His friend calls Anushka, who comes to him in the hospital, and then finally have a conversation and reconcile.
He does his final match just to finish what he started, and of course wins it. And in the end, over the end credits, he goes back to their home town, Anushka returns to wrestling herself, then gets pregnant again, and they both train his tiny little adorable daughter to be a wrestler like her mother.
Okay, here’s what I want to talk about. The way Anushka’s character, and what she sparks in Salman, comes clearer and clearer over the course of the film until it is finally all laid out in that final conversation at the hospital.
At first, Anushka seems kind of odd. She doesn’t like having this guy following her around, but pretty quickly gets over that and starts spending a lot of time with him, then all of a sudden is mad again when he proposes, and then proposes herself out of the blew because he wins a few wrestling matches. What the heck?
But then it goes on, and I think what we see is, she is a person who will stay with her commitments over her desires. At first, yeah, she didn’t like him. Because he was rude and followed her around. But then she got charmed by him, so much so that she started spending all her time with him and riding around on his motorcycle and so on. In their fight, Salman lists out all these reasons that he thought he could call her his girlfriend. And they are good reasons! If she didn’t really like him, then why was she having breakfast-lunch-dinner with him? Why was she touching him all the time? It’s not just a guy making assumptions because a woman talks to him, she was singling him out more than the other men her father was training, and we saw that in their song together.
I think she liked him and wanted him, but couldn’t let herself leave the track she was on, to be a top athlete married to a top athlete. So she had to go with her plans over what her heart wanted. And, as soon as he showed her how she could have both, then she immediately wanted to marry him.
And once she was married, she was all the way married. There was some regret in her decision to retire and have a baby instead. But it was an easy decision for her to make, because she had her husband and she saw how happy it made him. In the same way, she committed 100% to training him, she barely spoke up about how he behaved in public, she put her commitment to him above everything else, even when she wanted to say something else, to make a demand on him. Even her request that he stay back for the birth was worded as a request, not a demand.
And when they fought, she took a different vow, determining to live her life in sacrifice, away from her husband and, we learn towards the end, also away from wrestling. She forced herself to give up everything joyful and couldn’t let herself break that vow either. Only after Salman pushes and pushes and pushes, does she finally admit that she misses him and their life. And, finally, returns to wrestling competitions as well over the end credits.
It’s Salman’s pushing that starts to make more sense to me too in the second half. This is their pattern, this is what she needs. She needs him to be the thing that will, despite the odds, upset all her perfect plans. Because otherwise she will continue on the path she has set out for herself no matter how her desires change.
In their conversation at the hospital, she says of their separation “sometimes you use pain to mask pain.” And he sort of nods like he understands. The death of their child was so horrible, they have both of them been using their romantic travels as a distraction from dealing with it. She set them on this path, and he went along with it, because he needed it too, to follow his routine of seeing her at the temple once a day, raising money for his blood bank, and living a quiet sad life.
But now it is time for something else, and so he is pushing again, just like he did when she declared that she couldn’t marry him just because she enjoyed spending time with him. Now he is entering this competition, plastering his face all over India, and risking his life, just to shake her out of the box she has built for herself.
That’s what Salman does for Anushka, but what does she do for him? She wakes him up, really. The possibilities were always there, but only Anushka could really drive him to find out what he could do. If she hadn’t made any demands, he never would have tried. But she is a very demanding woman, so he is forced to reach deep inside and find the very utmost of his strength. Which, again, comes up in their hospital conversation. She tells him that everyone else wants him to quit, they don’t think he will survive his last match. But she knows him better than that, she is the only one who knows how much strength he has inside, and she wants him to fight.
Usually in films like this, the woman is the initial catalyst, but the ultimate goal is the defeat of some great enemy. Think of it like Ram had to fight Raavan, so Sita was kidnapped. The point wasn’t to rescue Sita, it was for Ram to defeat Raavan. But in this film, it really feels like the whole point was their romance. The massive international competition, risking his life, saving the whole mixed martial arts competition of India, it was just to get one woman to let herself be happy again.
Which is why we end with their little family, happy and together again, not with any of the competition shots.
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I really liked that the romance was the frame of the whole story. Anushka’s character is so strong — but also flawed. She is too rigid. Both of them compliment each other, and they need each other. I really liked that last hospital scene that unlike most wives in boxing type movies, she doesn’t fear for his life — she’s the ONLY one who really believes he can do it.
Yes! Usually the wife is the wet blanket who wants him to give up, this time she is the one telling him to keep going.
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I’m surprised that you were surprised that it was more of a love story than a sports film, to use your words. From the day of the announcement, Salman has been consistently saying that this film is a love story, not an action movie, and that the character of Sultan was one who was “destroyed by love.” So I had the opposite reaction to yours, that, for being such an important part of the story, their love got short shrift, especially the “falling in love” part, which could only be explained by plot reasons, not anything coming out of the characters.
I think I was going based on the trailers, where we saw a few quick moments of Salman and Anushka talking, but it was mostly Salman training and fighting and so on, on his own. So I was prepared for the romance to take a back seat to the sports, not be the thing that was driving the sports.
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