It’s time to start my traditional full summary shot by shot and scene by scene of the movie I just saw in the theater! Sometimes these can be incredibly long (like Fan) as I get distracted by backstory and metaphors and references and stuff. And sometimes they can be really short, because there just isn’t that much to talk about (like Rocky Handsome). In this case, I honestly don’t know how much I will have to say, so I’m just going to start and see how fast I go!
First, no trailer! There were rumors it would be Befikre, then Rustom. And then at the last minute, I saw a report that there would be no trailer at all, because Salman decided that would be best. Bollywoodhungama had a quote from an “insider”:
“There was a lot of pressure on Bhai for trailers to be attached to Sultan. Akira was one of them. But finally Bhai suggested we do away with all trailers since the film is already lengthy.”
I am grateful to Salman thinking about us, because I got home at about 11 on a weeknight and it would have been closer to midnight if there were trailers, but I am a little disappointed to miss out on seeing Rustom or Akira on the big screen, because I really like both trailers.
But, no trailers after all! So we go straight into exposition. A bunch of reporters are talking in a mixture of English and Hindi as the camera zooms around between them through a big flashing lights and red carpet kind of space. They are talking about how the Indian mixed martial arts competition (for the life of me, I cannot remember what it was called in this movie. I know in Brothers it was “Right to Fight”. That movie wasn’t nearly as good as this one, but it did at least have a more memorable made-up competition name!) is losing money, the promoter is in trouble and investors are pulling out.
(Not a good movie)
This is kind of a dull opening, it gives us the information we needed efficiently and the camera zipping around and all the flashing lights is trying to keep the audience interested, but it’s still kind of bland. Reminded me of the “world’s most poorly attended press conference” opening from RA.One. But, hey, we all know people are going to be coming in to the theater late, why not front load the boring stuff in the first 10 minutes?
I was also interested in how it mixed English and Hindi. I just read a really interesting article on how the usage of Hindi in dialogue has changed as the dialogue writers and other filmmakers become more and more the kind of people whose first language is English, not Hindi. I’m not fluent enough to tell, but it did kind of feel like maybe in this movie there was a fair amount of very basic and boring Hindi dialogue that just got the job done, rather than super poetic and beautiful dialogue. I mean, there was poetic and beautiful stuff too, usually in scenes with Salman’s character, but for stuff like a news team reporting on the collapse of mixed martial arts in India, it was just kind of dull and pedestrian. And the English was kind of dull and pedestrian too. It’s the worst of both worlds, just using the kind of language that someone who isn’t really fluent in either language could understand.
We go from the news reporters to the board room where Amit Sadh is making a case to his investors on why they should believe in him. I think this was supposed to be another kind of “fill in the background while people buy popcorn” scene, but I found it kind of exciting and interesting, mostly because Amit Sadh really leaped off the screen. He’s got a really tiny part in this, I’d say maybe 4th or 5th lead? After Salman, and Anushka, and Anant Sharma, and maybe Randeep. I mean, it’s a respectable part, but he was one of the main characters in Kai Po Che. And now Sushant Singh Rajput and Rajkummar Rao are rising stars, and Amit Sadh is playing 4th lead?
(He’s the one in the yellow shirt who isn’t Rajkummar Rao or Sushant)
On the other hand, Sushant Singh Rajput and Rajkummar Rao are playing lead roles in much smaller movies. Even with limited screentime, Amit Sadh is probably making an impact on more people in this film than Sushant did with all of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! And, even more importantly, playing 4th lead in the biggest Yash Raj release in years probably means he got a lot of face-time with Aditya Chopra, and that’s the kind of career advancement you can’t buy. I’d love it if we get an announcement in a few months that Adi has decided to start grooming him as his next star.
Amit deserves his own movie because his character is really distinctive in this right from the start, and it’s mostly on the performance. This could be just a general “ambitious young rich guy” role, but he adds a little nuance to it. You feel his kind of aggressive excitement as he tries to get his backers to stick with him. You feel that this isn’t the kind of person to role over and give up when he runs into adversity, but to fight harder and get angry. And you also get the sense that he has a hard time listening to other people or taking advice. He is trying to sell a bunch of much older and more experienced men on his vision, and he gives no sense of fear or uncertainty when he confronts them.
It’s also a little bit on the styling. Amit is styled in a way that feels kind of “cutting edge athlete/singer/actor at a business meeting” not “businessman at a business meeting”. He has really well cut suits, open collar shirts, and that kind of faux hawk hair style. And, often, the cool stubble look instead of clean-shaven. In contrast, the old men he is trying to sell on his business plan have respectable hair, mustaches, and traditional suits. It makes Amit feel consciously cutting edge, a little bit ahead and at the same time out of synch with them.
Which is why his business is in trouble. The “little bit ahead” part is good, but the “out of synch” part is bad. After the board meeting, we see him sitting and staring at his empty arena. He’s dropped the fast talk and swagger he had a little bit of in the last scene, and now he is just looking silently determined, and a little worried. One of the old men from the last scene comes and sits behind him, and Amit calls him “Dad”. It’s Parikshat Sahni, who was Anushka’s Dad in PK, and was in a bunch of other stuff (Including Dunno Y…Jaane Q! Good for you, Parikshat!), but who I immediately identified as Uday Chopra’s father in Mujshe Dosti Karoge, because I have watched “The Medley” TOO MANY TIMES.
Just like he was for Uday in Mujshe Dosti Karoge, and unlike he was for Anushka in PK, in this he is a very nice father. He quietly gives Amit advice, not in a nagging way, but in a “let me help” supportive way. And Amit is grateful and humble. Parikshat’s advice is that Amit needs to sponsor his own fighter, and it needs to be an Indian fighter, or else no one in India will care about this competition. And, Parikshat knows just who he should get! SULTAN!
We are now 10 minutes in, so it is time for both the first song and the first appearance by the hero. The intro is essentially just the first teaser trailer for the movie. Interesting! I wonder if this is now Yash Raj house policy? They did the same thing for Fan. It’s a practical move, the first teaser trailer should highlight the thing the audience is most excited about, which for a Khan film is going to be the Khan role. And if you already have the perfect 30 second intro for a character, why not use it for the teaser trailer and the character intro within the film?
The only difference, again just like with Fan, is that there is a little more details between the catchy first 12 seconds, and the real fist pump last 5 seconds. In this case, we get Salman coming out to the cheering crowd in slow motion, then an explanation of what this contest actually is. He has to fight his way through a whole group of other wrestlers, and if he defeats them all and grabs the green flag on the other side of the field, then he will win a new tractor and many cans of ghee (I don’t remember how much, but it was a lot). And then we see him fight a bunch of guys, before finally defeating the last one and smoothing his mustache as he stares down the calendar (which was the end shot of the teaser trailer).
I love this intro! There are so many different things established all at once. First, that Salman is awesome! Which of course we knew going in, but we didn’t know the particular flavor of awesome. And considering the majority of the film will show us what he was like before this peak, and then what he fell down to afterwards, it is important to establish just how awesome he was at his peak. Also, of course, all the slow motion and building music gives us a chance to whistle and cheer in the theater.
Second, it establishes the setting. A tractor and cans of ghee are valuable and important prizes, but they are something that would be sneered at by the fancy folks at that mixed-martial arts competition we saw in the opening. Salman is fighting for them, and the crowd is cheering him on, so they are all people who live in a place where the true value of such items is appreciated.
Third, so Eid-y! There is so much green! He has to get a green flag, the audience is cheering him on by waving green flags, it’s all very Muslim friendly. Plus, of course, his character name was announced so clearly he is Muslim as well. But, what is interesting, is this doesn’t feel like a huge political statement. Like, in Chak De, India, Shahrukh’s character being Muslim was a HUGE plot point, and the film had a definite anti-communalism message. Here, it doesn’t feel so much anti-communalism as just one facet of this particular character, and a savvy marketing move.
Early box office reports already have this breaking records in the UAE and Pakistan, and definitely having a bigger box office there than in any other international market. Making the character Muslim, and having green and green flags all over his first scene, is just as smart as throwing in the English dialogue for the North American and British market.
Of course, Salman wins all the fights and gets the tractor. And back in the present day, Parikshat tells Amit that this is who he needs to make his competition popular, someone from our soil, from our culture, someone with heart! SULTAN!
And, song! Again! This is one of those songs that I really liked when I saw it onscreen, but just listening to it did nothing for me. The visuals are really nice, establishing character and contrast and location.
The first thing we see is writing on a wall, which is translated as “If you burn your daughters, who will marry your sons?” So, in one of my reviews, I talked about how part of what was a little less than it could be in this film was no strong controversial social message. But I should really back off of that a little, because there is a message here, on the down low, and it’s about honoring strong women and valuing them. I should have caught it, they couldn’t have made it more explicit than introducing us to small town Haryana with a call to save the girl child.
And then we go in to see Salman’s morning routine. He’s in a sweater vest and button shirt and gets up in his little apartment, brushes his teeth, kicks his scooter to start it, and rides to work. Oh, by the way, credits play over this section, and no big surprises (especially Vishal-Shekhar showing up as this incredibly Vishal-Shekhar piece plays). Vabhavi Merchant did most of the songs, Farah did “Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai”. Neither of them were really on top of their game here, they are my two favorite choreographers but the songs just weren’t their very best work. Oh, and Sallu’s sister Alvira did his costumes! Apparently, she really likes him in sweaters and sweater vests, because this is not the only time he wears that outfit.
Anyway, the song! So, what’s neat is we get a sort of folky sounding thing with lots of drums and stuff while we watch Salman, and then we see Amit driving down the same road in his cool jeep and it switches to a kind of rap/hip-hop sound. And the two sounds keep intermixing, back and forth, as we cut between the two characters. It’s cool. Amit is quite attractive.
And then Amit arrives at the waterworks and goes up to a couple of guys and asks “Bhai, where is Sultan of the waterworks?” What I like is, he is so comfortable here. Normally in a movie, the super cool guy with the rap and the jeep and all would be a fish out of water in the village. But here, it is more like, this isn’t his natural environment, but he can still navigate it. Just like Salman can navigate in the city later on, even though he prefers the village.
The two guys direct him inside, where Salman is pulling a can out of the cupboard and quietly going over to where a row of guys are, I think, picking up their wages. As they get the cash from the accountant, they turn around and slid a few bills into Salman’s can. While Amit is looking through the window, one of the guys asks Salman why he keeps doing this, does he really think these 10-20 rps notes are going to get him where he wants to be? And Salman just smiles and says yes, in enough time. This whole intro is so nice, he comes off as just this sweet peaceable guy.
And you can also see why Amit reacts by pulling out his cell phone and calling his Dad and saying this can’t be the guy for them, he’s old and tired and boring. But, as he is talking on his phone, a tractor gets stuck in the road in front of the building, some guys gather around looking at it, and one of them calls out for “Sultan Bhai” to come out again. Salman comes out, all practical, carefully takes off his sweater vest, folds it neatly and puts it on his shoulder, and then with that as padding, hitches his shoulder under the rim of the tractor and lifts it out of the hole and back onto the road. Then he nods to the crowd, puts the sweater on, and walks away. And Amit quickly tells his Dad he was right, hangs up, and runs after Salman.
(Thus, Sultan is better than Bahubaali. Bothers me EVERY TIME that Shiva lifts the linga onto his shoulder with no protection from the rough edges.)
Bam! 2500 words! And, what, 10 minutes? 15? Maybe it will get faster as I go along.