I’ve seen Sultan twice now, and looking at a possible 3rd time sometime this week, but for those of you who can’t see it, or can only see it once, or saw it and are trying to remember everything that happened, I am going to try my best to remember everything I saw and write it all down for you.
I left off with Amit Sadh, the promoter for the made-up mixed martial arts contest that I can’t remember the name of, tracking down Salman in his village in Haryana and going up to speak to him.
Amit pulls out right away that he is the son of Parikshat Sahni, the old Olympic committee guy who used to work with Salman. Isn’t that interesting, that he is this super modern cool guy but still knows the proper thing is to introduce himself as his father’s son? It goes back to the idea that you can be both western, and desi, at the same time.
Of course, he isn’t quite desi enough, his offer of money to Salman is an insult, and Salman casually says that he would mess him up permanently for that, except he won’t out of respect for his father. But Amit rallies quickly, and realizes that if he wants to win Salman over, he needs to figure out what he wants more than money. So he tracks down his best friend, Govind.
Govind is played by Anant Sharma, and this was a bit of a casting miss-step. Not that Anant doesn’t do a great job, he really does. But he is sooooooooooooooo young! In the “present day” scenes, Salman is playing it like an older guy, one who is a little tired and mature and past his prime. But Anant Sharma, no matter how he tries, still comes off as just waaaaaaay too young. I could see them thinking that they should cast someone the right age to play Salman’s friend in the flashbacks, but they really should have worked harder to make him look older in the later parts. Including his first scene, when Amit meets him.
Anant is working at the bus ticket counter. It’s not clear if he owns the bus line, sells the tickets, or just volunteers to help out. But he is running things, and rejecting a middle-aged man who is trying to ride free on a pass, while insisting that an extremely elderly man rides for free. If Anant had come off as more of a 40-something guy, it would have felt like a nice “okay, one of the mature leaders of the village is being a good guy and making sure things are fair and kind.” But since he still feels like a 20-something, it’s just sort of odd seeing him order everyone around.
What I like is that there is no false “oh no, I won’t tell you about Salman! Oh wait, yes I will five minutes later.” Anant is a nice gentle soul, and he is happy to share the story with Amit. He explains that this is a love story, they greatest love story of their village.
And then the music starts up and we see Salman standing by his bike outside the local mosque. In the background, a little boy murmurs “Chai, bhaisahib!” and hands him a cup, which Salman sips as he watches through the window of the mosque and sees a woman, Anushka, praying with a scarf over her head. I mention this first glimpse of her, because it is so traditional, the long hair and the scarf and the prayer. And then she turns and walks through the doorway and we see that she is wearing a track suit, not a sari or Salwar Kameez. And she walks out of the mosque, smiles at a woman who stops her, and then walks right past Salman without looking.
Such a nice scene! And so efficient in what it tells us. Salman comes there everyday, notice that they have his Chai ready for him without him even asking. Anushka is both traditional, and modern. And while Salman is in love with her, she doesn’t care for him.
And then Anant’s voice takes us back to 8 years ago (as shown on the chryon as well), when Salman was but a carefree boy. Wait, what? 8 years ago? I don’t know…. And the rest of the film doesn’t really stick with the 8 years ago timeline either. He is referred to as over 40 in the “present day”, which would mean 8 years ago he would have been over 30. It is also mentioned that his father died later, and not in a “and so young!” way, but more in a “because he had a 40 year old son, of course he died!” way. And Anushka confronts him at one point with why he is still unmarried. Oh, and he almost slips up and calls her father “Bhai” instead of “Uncle”.
I think there could have been a little more shading here, showing that he was dramatically older than his group of friends, including Anant, that he was a very late bloomer who had plenty of failures in his life before he got to this point where we find him and things finally started falling into place. I’d be fine with that, especially if there was also some mention of an age gap with Anushka. But it’s just not there in this scene, Salman is mentioned as being at the age when he has to start taking things seriously, not as far past that age.
Oh, and he is installing a “Videocon” satellite dish on a roof and joking with the old man who is getting it about whether he will be able to see “fashion TV” while Anant is below feeding him cable. There is so much product placement in this film! Videocon here, and back at Salman’s introduction scene, they kept cutting to the judges drinking a particular drink. Which apparently wasn’t very good product placement, because I have no memory of what kind of drink it was, just that they kept fiddling with the bottles and re-arranging them so the label showed.
While he is installing it, a group of guys comes along and teases them about missing out on the kite chasing today, since they are working. They say that their “big brother” told them that Salman used to be pretty good at it. Again, a little touch indicating that Salman is supposed to be much older than the group he is hanging out with. But “uncle” or “father” might be better.
Salman tries to shake off the challenge, but of course can’t, ending up dropping the satellite dish and jumping off the roof as soon as a kite is loose. And then there is this awesome parkour run through the streets. It looks really cool, with them jumping over obstacles and stuff. And it also gives a sense of how well-known Salman is in the village. For instance, he jumps into the window of a classroom and a little girl chirps up “S for Sultan!” and kisses his cheek while the teacher rolls her eyes. So, small children know and love him, but the adults are a little tired of his antics. There is also the first time we see a wrestling match, but it is just an obstacle to be overcome, to guys wrestling with a cheering crowd around them, and the kite chasers have to zip past and through. I like it, that we first see wrestling the way it is usually handled in films, as something to give background flavor, before coming back and really taking it seriously and looking at it for once.
Salman is close, has almost caught it, when a motorcycle zooms in front of him and cuts him off. He yells at the rider and slaps him, and then off course the rider takes off her helmet and it is Anushka! And she promptly starts beating him up with her helmet and abusing him, until finally Anant shows up to apologize and drag Salman away, while Anushka yells after him “and you broke my helmet!” and an old woman tries to pull her away saying “Why are you always bullying the boys?” This whole time, Salman just has a dopey “I’m so in love!” look on his face.
It isn’t uncommon for heroes to fall in love with a heroine because she is “spicy” or “spunky” or “free”. And at the first watch, I thought the same thing was happening here. But Anushka isn’t just “spicy”, she is straight up scary! She is beating him up and down with her helmet and she doesn’t care who sees or what they think. And it isn’t a spunky touch on top of the female, she has nothing traditionally “feminine” about her at all. She isn’t wearing a sexy outfit, just a practical track suit, and almost no make-up and no jewelry. Salman falls for her for her, not for any of the superficial trappings. And he falls for someone that no one else could appreciate.
He is a nice boy, so he goes straight home to tell his grandmother that he is in love. After riding a donkey with a blackened face and a dopey grin, because he lost the kite bet. Just as Anushka doesn’t care how angry and unpleasant she looks, so Salman doesn’t care how foolish he looks. A perfect pair!
His father is a bit disapproving of him jumping onto yet another scheme, after he just got set up with the satellite business, and now he is in love! But his grandmother is completely supportive, and wearing awesome sunglasses because she is getting over an eye operation. There’s no real reason, from a narrative perspective, for her to have the sunglasses, but I love the visual!
His grandmother also recommends that he propose right away, and that he go to the temple first and tie a thread. And then we see him and Anant arriving at the temple just in time to see Anushka coming out with what is clearly a wedding party. She is all dressed up (green again!), but she is still moving in that same practical focused way that she does in a tracksuit, no time for feminine fripperies.
A little boy knocks into her and the laddoos on the tray she is carrying fall off. Salman jumps up to help her pick them up and as he is helping, he notices her bare toes peeking out from under her skirt. He sort of does a double-take and asks “are those your feet?”, and Anushka responds, “yes, so?”, in a sort of “do you think it is a big thing to see my bare feet, because I don’t!” way.
Salman recovers and tries to introduce himself, giving his full name and that he owns a satellite TV company, and listing off all the channels they have, stumbling over the English names. Anushka stops him and tells him to stop trying to speak in English, it is beyond him. So he explains, all eager and puppylike, that he is speaking in English because it is supposed to be what girls like, “One ‘I Love You’ gets you a ‘kiss’!” Anushka glares at him and then tells him that there is a name for guys like that he make assumptions, “Shit guy”. She storms off and Salman stares after her saying “siiit guy” with a big smile on his face. Anant runs up and asks how it went, and Salman says “she called me her ‘siit guy’. Like I am dipped in honey!” (I’m thinking that he mixed up “sweet “and “shit”)
He is so excited, that he decides to hop on the bike with Anant and follow her to the wedding where she is going so he can see her again. And, they find out, it is the wedding of the guy they had the kite race with! Which makes Salman smile and say “well then no problem, it is our wedding too!” I like this, that it isn’t just Anushka’s dislike and rudeness he ignores, anyone who is angry with him, he just refuses to acknowledge it. Because that’s his personality, he can’t grasp anger or hate, they aren’t emotions he ever feels himself really.
They arrive at the wedding venue and quietly grab a couple of unattended jackets off the back of a bike to sneak in. Just as Anushka is yelling “oy! No more spoons and singing, time for the DJ! Turn up the bass!” Salman is, again, all in love with her moxy. And he asks Anant for ideas as to what he could say in English to win her over. Anant remembers another friend who he has heard on the phone saying “baby, baby”, so that must be the thing to say to her. Say “baby”, and find out what she likes. Well, she wants the DJ to turn up the volume, so “Baby ko Bass Pasand Hai!”
And, song! I’ll put in the video in a second, but there were a couple things I noticed when I saw it in the film that weren’t as striking in just the trailer. First, Anushka keeps liking him in spite of herself. She gets into dancing with him, she enjoys singing back, and then she will catch herself and notice what she is doing and start abusing him again. It’s the same push and pull we will see over and over again, she can’t help being charmed by his big dopey enthusiasm and determination, but she has to keep forcing herself not to give in because it doesn’t fit with her vision for her life.
The other thing I noticed is that, while she is running the wedding, she isn’t really being noticed or chased by all the boys. Often in a song like this, the bridesmaid-type who is the heroine leading the song is supposed to be the most beautifulest and gracefulist and all that of all the girls. All the boys are clearly going to be singing to her. I’m thinking, like Sridevi in Chandni or Madhuri in anything. But in this song, she is being followed around by Salman, and everyone is singing to her on his behalf, but he seems to be the only guy who is really interested. She is yelling at the DJ, not shyly singing a song or performing a dance. It’s a small change, but it works with the general idea that she is a difficult difficult woman, and different, and Salman sees something in her that no one else does. Oh, and as the song ends, Salman backs out of the party shouting “I AM YOUR SHIT GUY!” with this huge smile on his face, which is just so endearing!