Sultan Part 5: Things Are About to Get Really Really Really Sad

Is that a spoiler?  I don’t think so.  I mean, we are coming up on the interval, of course SOMETHING less than ideal has to happen, or else no one would ever bother coming back for the second half.

(part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, part 7 here)

Okay, over an hour in, let’s see if I can cover all the important points that already happened in just a few sentences!  Amit Sadh the fight promoter wants Salman to come out of retirement to fight for him and is talking to Salman’s friend Anant about why Salman won’t fight.  Anant tells him Salman’s love story with another wrestler, Anushka, while in the present day we have already seen that Anushka and Salman don’t talk any more.  Salman became a wrestler to impress Anushka and ended up being the best wrestler of them all.  The two of them got married and traveled the world together winning competitions.  But when Anushka got pregnant, she had to stay home while Salman went to the Olympics, and Salman ended up getting more and more cocky while she got quieter and quieter.  Now, Salman is taking off for another competition the same week Anushka is due to give birth, despite her request that he stay back.

(Here, this video sums up the whole romance.  Plus, it’s my favorite song from the movie!)

When Salman was at the Olympics, the whole family, including Anushka and her Dad and Anant and all the other wrestlers were watching TV together, and Anushka felt a twinge, and said something about maybe going into labor, and even her father just waved at her to be quiet.  But that was several weeks ago, now Anushka is much closer to her due date, and also much more worn down and quiet.  As Salman has gotten bigger and bigger, she has gotten smaller, essentially.  He is now unnaturally confident and full of himself, and she is unnaturally unassuming and unwilling to make demands.  The marriage has problems, is what I am saying!  And perhaps because of that, her father is much more caring in this scene than in the last.  He notices the sound of a dropped glass in the kitchen and immediately realizes she has gone into labor.

As Salman wins his competition overseas, the family back in India rushes Anushka to the hospital (she has to ride pillion on a bike while in labor!).  Salman leaves the stage in triumph to get a call from Anant back home, telling him the baby is born, and it is a boy, just like he said.  Salman is thrilled, and jumps on a plane.

Pausing here for a moment, isn’t it interesting that Salman has no worries for the health of either the baby or the mother?  Of course, the audience is worried, because we know we are watching a movie and we saw all the signs that this pregnancy was not going to end happily.  But even if you aren’t in a movie, just in real life, giving birth is extremely dangerous, wouldn’t you have that slight concern for your wife and child no matter what?

I think the fact that Salman doesn’t here is a sign of his growing egotism.  Just like he assumes he will win all the competitions and his child will be a boy, he assumes that his child will be healthy and his wife will recover from birth, because he wills it to be so!  He will not allow for the possibility of anything else to enter his mind, just like he wasn’t willing to even consider the gentle request Anushka gave him to stay back to enter his mind.

I think this is consistent with the character even before this part of the film.  He is a big happy goofy loving guy.  But he is also always willing to accept a challenge and always assumes he will win.  He needed to have his challenges directed (that’s what Anushka did for him) before he could reveal his full potential, but within himself, he never felt like a loser.  And now, the whole world sees him as this conqueror type.  And the only thing that could bring him down to earth, sharing his success with Anushka, has been taken away.  It’s not that she isn’t traveling and competing with him any more, it’s that she doesn’t feel worthy to really correct or challenge him BECAUSE she isn’t competing with him any more.  And that has left his natural confidence to grow and grow, unchecked, until he is blind to the possibility that anything could ever go wrong again.

(Believing in his own theme song too much, basically)

Because, of course, the birth did not go well.  Salman arrives at the tiny little local hospital all happy and smiling.  The people sitting around outside the room, Anant and Kumud (Anushka’s Dad), look kind of tired, but they aren’t sobbing or overcome, and he doesn’t take any time to look at them very closely, just whizzing into Anushka’s room, still all confident that everything worked out for the best, just like it always does for him.

Anushka looks just about dead.  Kudos to the make-up people for this scene!  She has that drained look you get after an illness, or stress, or grief.  Absolutely no color in her skin, even her hair looks tired.  Oh, and she actually has a realistic post-birth stomach!  Salman takes one look at her and starts to realize that something is very wrong.

(Unlike Rani in Bunty aur Babli who seemed to snap back post-pregnancy in about 5 minutes)

I think this scene may have been supposed to be kind of a twist.  Or at least, could have been a twist.  Just seeing Anushka, still alive, post-birth.  The trailers certainly made it look like she might be dead, we knew something terrible had to happen to him and all the songs and images were just from “past-Salman” time, not present.  Plus, and I had completely forgotten about this, there was a whole little media thing about the little girl who was cast as his daughter.  She is truly ADORABLE.  Became a viral sensation after her mother posted a video of her crying after watching Bajrangi Bhaijaan, so they brought her to India to be in this film, and had a couple more little news stories about how happy she was to meet Salman in person and so on and so on.

(This little girl.  So Cute!)

I’d forgotten about all that, the filming was so long ago, but they certainly weren’t hiding the fact that they had cast a little girl to play his daughter.  With the trailer making it look like Anushka wasn’t around in the present day, it all just combined to suggest that maybe Anushka was going to die and the baby was going to live.  And they set it up for the “twist!” feeling a little bit, having Salman rush into the room before talking to anyone else, and then the camera suddenly swinging around to reveal Anushka, still alive and on her feet.

The bigger reason to set it up like this, I am sure, is that it lets Anushka-the-actress have one really great scene.  And it lets Anushka-the-character be the one to break the news to Salman, to keep this moment just between the two of them.  Because, of course, the baby died.

She lets him know right away, using past tense in response to his question about his son.  And then while he is still trying to process it, she goes through what happened.  The baby was born weak, he fought for 18 hours, but he needed blood.  They asked all the villagers, but no one had that same rare type he shared with his father.  And by the time Anant got back from riding to the nearest bloodbank, it was too late.  The details of this speech are so wonderful, because they give just enough for us to imagine the nightmare she must have just been through without making it melodramatic: the initial joy of the baby, seeing he is sick, spending 18 hours watching him fight, all the friends and relatives running around looking for blood donors, a desperate ride through the night, and finally the worst happening despite all their efforts.

And it’s important to have those details for where they are right now, in this moment, and the gap they cannot cross.  While Salman spent 18 hours flying home ready to meet his son, and is just now feeling the grief, he will never know the very particular hell experienced by everyone left home as they tried for 18 hours to keep this baby alive.  Anushka is just completely empty of everything at this moment, you can see it in how she is moving, like she can’t even necessarily feel the floor under her feet or the bed she is sitting on.  But Salman is right at the beginning of it all, taking in what he has lost, and what he has done by not being here.

There is the practical consideration that if he had been here, he could have donated blood, and the baby would have had a chance.  But the blood is also a metaphor for all the other ways he could have lent them strength, he could have been here to support his wife, to comfort her in the darkest moments of her life, to share this with her.  She had given up everything to support him, she had killed her dreams and made herself into someone else just to support him.  And he wasn’t here to give that strength back to her when she most needed it.

(Also, inevitably, this came to mind)

The first time I watched this scene, I was completely in Anushka’s corner!  He knew her due date was around the corner, she asked him to stay home, and still he went overseas!  Plus, he got to have this happy fun time while she was trapped in a nightmare for 18 hours.  Darn right she should give it to him as bluntly as possible and then tell him to leave her alone!

But the second time I watched it, having seen their conversations later in the film, it’s a little more complicated than that.  He never asked her to give up her dreams, he never asked her to get pregnant, he never asked her to turn into the perfect little supportive wife.  That was on her.  And it was this dynamic, in place long before this particular tragedy, that caused the bigger problem.  If she had stayed fiery and happy and confident, if she had cut him down to size when he needed it, if she had been more forceful in her desire for him to stay home, than this may not have happened.  And if it had to happen anyway, she might have come out of it less completely broken if she hadn’t already been a little bit broken through her dissatisfaction with her life choices.

None of this is to remove any responsibility from Salman, of course.  He let Anushka wither away for the past few months, he didn’t listen to her very reasonable concerns, and the only reason this is hitting him so hard is because his own self-interest and self-confidence made him completely blind to what could be happening at home.  Like I said, just because you learn your son is born, doesn’t mean you assume everything is perfect!

But at the end of the film (SPOILERS, I guess?  But wouldn’t you want spoilers if you are reading a detailed recap?), he reminds her that he was suffering too in this moment.  Just because she felt bad doesn’t mean he wasn’t feeling bad too.  It isn’t a matter of him “making” her suffer, it is the two of them both suffering together.

Anyway, in a cool shot, when Anushka sends him out, Salman puts the medal he just won into the empty cradle, and then walks out.  And we are back in the present day!  Salman is arriving back at his sad lonely little room, taking out his can of money for the day, opening up a cupboard, and revealing dozens of similar beaten up cans, with “Aman Blood Bank” scratched into the top of the cupboard.  And just as the screen freezes and “Interval” comes up, the person I brought with me to see this the first time leaned over and said, “Why can’t he just keep re-using the same can?”  Which is an excellent point, but also, way to spoil the powerful visual with your mean logic!

(It’s this kind of can, clearly re-purposed from something else with a handwritten label slapped on it.  So it’s not like he is blowing the whole donation budget on buying new cans, but still, wouldn’t it be easier to store the money in the bank and just keep filing the same can?)

Back from interval, we have an unimportant talky talky scene to cover people coming back with popcorn.  Which was good, because the first time I saw this, I missed the whole thing thanks to noisy neighbors and late returners.  But I was able to get it the second time, and there were two small things I found interesting.

Anant and Amit are still talking, and Anant is quickly catching him up to present day Salman.  There were two things I found interesting in what he said.  First, that Salman’s father died a few years back and now he is “all alone”.  It’s an interesting part of what makes Salman and Anushka such a strong couple in this film, that they are so much “us against the world”.  Anushka has no mother and no siblings, neither does Salman.  The relatives they have love them a whole lot, but when tragedy strikes, they need to be able to rely on each other most of all.

The second thing I found interesting was that Anant clarifies that Salman is not trying to raise money to build a blood bank in an effort to get Anushka to forgive him, but simply to help him forgive himself.  I like 2 things about that.  First, it’s acknowledging that Salman is not simply suffering because of his separation from Anushka, that is just a part of a much larger despair.  And secondly, that it gets rid of the whole idea of “he has to win her back” as a motivation for the goal.  I hate that, when reconciling with someone is minimized to just being a matter of “run fast, win the prize, kill that guy, and then you will get the girl!”  They managed to avoid that just barely in their earlier romance, by making it not so much a specific goal which would let him “win” her, but more just a general sense that he had to have self-respect and ambition before she would even consider him.  It was just a basic barrier to consideration, not an automatic “I do this, I get the girl” situation.

(I liked the same thing in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, that the only barrier he had to cross was just finding them a house, a practical consideration for a young couple starting out, not a crazy challenge before he could “win” her)

Okay, I’m not getting past these two scenes any time soon, so I’m just going to end the post with some discussion of how I think what we have learned about Salman and Anushka’s lives in the 4 years (is it 4?  I think it’s 4) since their child’s death affects what happens in the second half of the film.  Both of them have been in their own particular purgatory.  They both left each other.  Anushka was the one who made the decision to separate, but Salman didn’t disagree.  Anushka is teaching with her father and living with him, but she has no joy in life and she isn’t competing herself.  And she visits the Masjid every day.  Salman is living alone, collecting money for his blood bank, and also visiting the Masjid everyday, but not letting himself enter it.  Anushka set the tone of this sort of living death, but Salman went along with it.

When Salman wakes up and starts living again, he also starts wooing Anushka.  Not because he wants her with him (although of course he does), but because he knows he has to shake her out of her depression and back into life.  He knows she still loves him and will never love anyone else, but she isn’t letting herself feel it, because she isn’t letting herself feel anything.  That’s why, in the end, their reconciliation is so lowkey.  It didn’t have to be a wrestling competition, it didn’t need national attention, he could have just as easily had the same effect by, I don’t know, fixing the roof opposite her house and singing to her everyday.  It just had to be something she couldn’t ignore, something where he could show her by example that it is possible to care about something again, to be happy again.  And once she felt, they just had to have the conversation that they never finished 4 years (I think?) earlier, where she acknowledges that his pain is the same as hers, and they need to let it unite them, not tear them apart.

6 thoughts on “Sultan Part 5: Things Are About to Get Really Really Really Sad

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