Part 4! We have reached my favorite song! I really liked the way it sounded when I was just listening to the soundtrack, and I ended up liking the visuals too. Hopefully some version of the video will make it’s way online soon.
Ready for a lightening fast recap to position us for this part? In present day, Salman’s friend Anant is telling fight promoter Amit the story of Salman’s love story which is why he doesn’t want to fight. In the flashback, Salman has fallen in love with Anushka at first sight, joined her father’s wrestling gym to get closer to her, worked his way into her life, and then been told off by her because he doesn’t fit her vision of the kind of man she wants to marry. So he decides to work hard and make himself into that man, and Boom! Work out montage song!
Before moving on from the song, there was one thing that kind of stood out for me that I forgot to mention in my last post. In the middle, after Salman has trained his body by running and pulling plows and stuff, Anant takes him and introduces him to someone else (not Anushka’s father) who also runs a wrestling gym, and we see Salman watching matches with his new teacher and working out with fellow students and stuff. Which I appreciate!
Through out the film, wrestling is shown as not just a matter of brute strength, but a mental challenge as well. To show Salman becoming this super wrestler merely through his homegrown training would undermine that message. So yes, a lot of it was his determination and lonely battle, but there was also someone around to teach him the basics of the movements and the grips and what practices to do. It’s also one of my favorite things about the Rocky movies (which obviously were a strong influence on this film), that excepting Rocky 4, it isn’t just about Rocky’s lonely battle, it is about him finding a coach who can give him the mental skills to succeed.
(Okay, Duke’s there for a little bit, but it’s mostly just Stallone working out in a beard)
After doing a ton of training and reaching deep inside himself and memorizing all the grips and so on, Salman strides back into Kumud’s training camp and beats all the other guys, and Kumud cheerfully signs him to be their candidate for the state championships. If that part felt rushed when I wrote it, it felt rushed in the film too. In fact, I think it is just part of the end of the song, seeing him show up, same rapid cuts of the fights, and then Kumud cheerfully signing him in as their candidate for State.
At State, finally, Salman is in a regular full wrestlers outfit. Still not sure what that means. Why only now? Is it a confirmation of the status he has now achieved? Is it just to make it easier to see him during the match? Or more accurate to what state level matches look like? Or just some super practical purpose related to using a body double, or making Salman’s body look distinctively different than in other scenes?
Of course, he wins his match easily, because he is all awesome now. But then he goes to the locker room and Kumud learns that he has challenged a fighter far out of his weight class! The local sports committee is in an uproar, this is unprecedented, what is he thinking! Kumud goes to talk to him, and Salman slips the shoulders of his red wrestling one piece off his shoulders while they are talking, puts on a grey t-shirt, and then puts the red wrestling one piece back on over it. Again, why? I strongly suspect in this case it really is just to make it easier for the body double in the next fight when he is still wearing the grey t-shirt. Because why else would you do that?
The conversation with Kumud confuses me. Mostly, I think, because the subtitles failed in the pivotal line. Kumud asks why he is doing this, it’s crazy, don’t do it, and Salman responds “No one can defeat you until you defeat yourself.” Which, what? Does that mean “no one can defeat you if you don’t let yourself be defeated”? Or does it mean “I must defeat the fears and insecurities within myself before I can defeat anyone else”? From the subtitles, it could be either. I am kind of leaning towards the second, because that’s what it feels like, he is doing the hardest thing he can think of as a challenge to his own insecurities.
Kumud gives up and Anushka comes in. I don’t remember the details of their exchange, partly because, again, the subtitles FAIL. But also because at least half of it is in the body language and what they DON’T say. Anushka is standing, primed and anxious, while Salman is seated, relaxed, solid. It is the opposite of their earlier interactions, when Salman was moving around trying to get her attention while she was literally and figuratively unmoved. And when she asks him why he is doing this, he says, more or less, “you know why”. But not in an accusatory way, not like he is blaming her for driving him to it, just in a factual “You asked, and I am telling you the truth” way. I like it, he isn’t trying to make her feel bad, but he also isn’t trying to shelter her. He is just saying “this is what it is, I am going to go risk my life and limb in a fight for you, because you challenged me to be better”.
I also like, when he comes out, that we see the coach of the other fighter tell the other fighter “look, just throw him around a little, don’t hurt him”. There was no need to include that line really, but it creates a sense of a world of kind people who care more about each other than the competition. Too often in sports movies it is all about the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, it’s refreshing to just get a glimpse of, well, sportspeople! Who just love the sport and enjoy the challenge, but don’t hate each other.
Which comes up again at the end of the match, which Salman wins (of course) after looking like he is going to lose (and Anushka looks worried when he is losing), and the whole group of wrestlers from Kumud’s school surround him and hug and cheer him on. These are the guys who he supplanted, showing up a few months back and taking the prime spot in the state competitions and turning into the star of the school. They could have resented or hated him, but instead they are all just sincerely happy to see him succeed. Again, sportspersonship!
Anushka is happy to. He walks over to her, she looks at him, and says “Will you marry me?” He sort of smiles, and nods, and she breaks into this big smile and leans forward, and their foreheads meet, and my favorite song starts up!
(Salman just posted it this morning! He must have known I would be writing this post)
But wait wait! We haven’t gotten there yet! I had things I thought about this part! First, the proposal! I love how blunt it is. She isn’t shy or nervous about it at all, it’s just a thing she wants to ask. And it feels kind of out of the blue, but also not. Remember, my feeling is that she has liked him all along, all the way back to “Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai” and definitely during the “440 Volt” song with all the pillion riding on bikes and congratulatory hugging and meeting his friends and so on. In that scene a second ago, in the locker room when she was all scared and didn’t want him to fight, she was already thrown into an emotional spin. And now he has proved himself in every way worthy of her, she can finally give in to what she wanted all along and marry him.
And then the song, which is SO CUTE! We see him arrive for their wedding, them marrying with huge grins on both their faces, and then going around the world to wresting competitions, winning them all, her the female side and him the male. It’s really happy making! Oh, and they go to Budapest! Which is so strange, because when they are on the famous suspension bridge at night, I couldn’t help thinking “this must be so disturbing for him, remembering that time he lost Aishwarya to Ajay Devgn on this same bridge!” Although, he wasn’t there for that scene, right? He was back all heartbroken at the Opera House. Which they don’t actually visit in this sequence, although they do go to Szentendre, where Aish and Ajay I think hung out in that bit when they went out of town and then got mugged on the way back. I really need to watch Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam again. Or, visit Budapest again. One or the other. Such good Paprika!
The other reason I love this song, besides the super poppy and peppy sound and the big happy smiles on their faces the whole time, is because of how time moves forward in it. Everything is so perfect and it unwinds in a series of triumphs and happiness, and it feels like time is just one long, well, song! Because that’s how it is when everything is going well. It all moves forward in these series of golden perfect moments. Unlike when they were going through the agony of the courtship ups and downs, and 3 months felt like 3 years. Now, they are married, and the first 2 years of marriage feels like it went by in 5 minutes.
And in the culmination of all of this, they both get acceptance letters to the Olympic team! They are riding along in a parade to through their hometown, waving to the crowd, Anushka turns to smile at Salman, and collapses! It feels awkwardly sudden, like you are more likely to laugh in surprise than feel worried. Which is okay, because the worry is fixed in a few minutes, when the doctor comes out and tells Salman to distribute sweets, because she is pregnant! Anant is all happy, but Salman looks kind of blank and serious, and then smiles a little, before being dragged out into the street to celebrate. Anushka comes soberly out of the examining room and looks at Salman celebrating, then pulls the Olympic acceptance letter out of her pocket and looks at it.
Her father comes up at this point and asks her “how could you let this happen? What about your dreams? Olympic gold?” I think I saw some editorial somewhere online claiming this is a bad thing to say, putting the blame solely on her. But I don’t think it is, really, it’s a father talking to his daughter. Why would he talk to his son-in-law about how he feels and what he did? Obviously, he is going to talk to his daughter first, because he loves her more. I also read it as more about a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body and an acknowledgement of that. This is Anushka’s decision, and he is asking her why she made it.
Anushka’s response is perfectly balanced. The words are right, she says that she already has her gold, and he is dancing in the street there, so happy to be a father. But the way she says them, and her face, you can tell her heart is breaking, even though at the same time she can’t stop smiling. It’s a decision she wants to make and is happy with, but it isn’t an easy one for her to make. And I have to wonder, a little bit, did Salman (as an actor), make the choice to look so solemn and serious at the announcement because he wanted to convey that Sultan-the-character had some thought of Anushka’s heartbreak as well? Maybe by the time she came out, he was dancing in the street, but his first reaction was a little darker.
More importantly for later points in the film, she also indicates that Salman will bring the Olympic gold home for both of them, her and her father, and they will train him together. And then, training! She blows the whistle and runs him through training, as she gets increasingly pregnant. He stops in the middle to insist she sit down and eat and drink water, while she is trying to give the same to him for his training. And he wins at the Olympics! As she watches at home with her father and the rest of the wrestling team. Wooo!
Only, he wins by a knock-out, and ends it with a little vamp at the camera, a touch of ego that we haven’t seen from him before really. And when he comes home, as he arrives in triumph and I am prepared for him to put his medal around Anushka’s neck, instead he smiles and turns away from her to talk to the cameras. And Anushka kind of swallows her unhappiness and keeps smiling.
She does the same thing again at dinner when Salman refuses to participate in the local wrestling match when her father asks, saying that they should send another one of the wrestlers from the school, one more on “that level” of wrestler. She isn’t even there at the local match (I think? Or else some other event.) when Salman is given an honorary post at the waterworks, and a statue in his honor. But when he is asked questions by the reporters, he doesn’t answer with humility and gratitude, he answers with ego and over-confidence. And when he gets off the stage, one of the reporters comes up and asks for a photo, and when they are posted next to each other, says to him “aren’t you getting a little too proud?” or words to that effect. And Salman says “so are you, only you will wear the evidence on your face”, and then slaps him!
(The Statue is, of course, yet another Rocky reference! Oh, and there’s also a montage of brand endorsement filming at this point which is also clearly a Rocky reference)
This is the bit that felt like it could so easily be read as a comment on Salman himself, the way he can come off as not very humble in some interviews. And also how random strangers feel they have the right to correct his behavior. But if it is a comment on his fame, the scene that comes afterward makes an even more interesting counter-statement. Anushka is quietly sitting and watching the news coverage of the incident. Salman comes into the room and looms over her, grabs the remote and turns off the TV and tells her to stop watching that. Interesting shot here too, she is centered in the frame sitting in a chair, and from the right hand side of the frame we see Salman’s big hand and arm reach in to grab the remote. And on the left side of the frame, we see his reflection in a mirror. There are several times in this film when mirrors or TVs are used this way, to give a double perspective in one frame. It looks cool, but it feels more about being able to show a cool thing like Salman’s arm coming into the frame and also his face, than any kind of deeper statement or meaning about reflections and self and so on. Which is what would kick it up from “looks cool” to “freaking genius!”
Salman announces that it is time to eat, and brings Anushka over to the table. While they are eating, she quietly says that her 9 months are almost up, the baby will be here soon. Salman says it is sure it is a boy, his boy! And he even has a name, Aman! For peace. Anushka just keeps sitting there, taking it in. And then she asks him if he could stay back, not go to his next competition, because she wants him here for the birth. He says no, doesn’t even really consider it, says that he will get his title, “King of the Ring”, at the international wrestling championships, and then come home and have his son. Anushka listens quietly again, and then says “I am worried, what if you go so far ahead of us, you forget we are here.” And Salman rejects it, basically. He says that he is doing all this for them, he is getting honors just like she wanted. And she says there is a difference between success and respect. He rejects it again, and stands up and says “meal over!” and walks away.
The first time I watched the movie, I thought Salman was totally completely in the wrong at this point. But on the second watch, he’s not COMPLETELY wrong. Remember, Anushka’s response to giving up her dreams in her pregnancy was to put even more on Salman, to say that he will win the gold for them all. She insisted on training him through out her pregnancy, putting his health and training above her health and that of the baby, it was on him to remind her to eat. And back when they were romancing, she didn’t want sweet loving simple Salman, she wanted the one who won things and achieved them. She really did make him into this, and now she is changing the rules on him.
And it’s not just about Salman. While Anushka may tell herself that she is happy to give up her dreams, to stay home and pregnant, to be “just” a wife, I don’t think she is happy. And it’s not on Salman to make those choices for her, to force her to admit her own unhappiness, that’s on her to change her own life if she doesn’t like how it is.
Which brings me back to how, possibly, this is commenting on Salman in real life. His fans want him to be the top, to be the star, to be confident and cool and on top. But then when they are unhappy with their own lives, they turn on him, and blame him for being what they thought the wanted, for forcing him to live extra large because he is living not just his own dreams, but everybody’s dreams.