Okay, I want to finish this off before the weekend, so get ready for some loooooooooooooooooong posts.
You ready for the entire first half of the film in a few sentences? Here goes! Amit Sadh the fight promoter wants to convince retired wrestler Salman to come back and fight in his mixed martial arts competition. He asks Salman’s old friend Anant why Salman won’t fight, and Anant tells him the whooooooooooooole love story of Salman and Anushka, how Salman was an childlike loser who fell in love with goal oriented wrestler Anushka, became a wrestler to impress her, became the best wrestler of them all, married her, then she got pregnant and had to retire, he kept wrestling and won at the Olympics, but pulled away from her and became cocky and over-confident while she became quieter and sadder, and then their baby died while he was overseas at a competition, and the baby might have survived if he had been home to donate blood of the same rare type he shared with the baby. So Anushka announced she couldn’t even look at him any more, and now they live separately and he is trying to raise money for a blood bank in honor of his son. Phew! That was so much information!
Back in the present, Anant has just finished telling the whole story to Amit, and then gives him the key to the whole thing, saying that money means nothing to Salman, but if you approach him through his heart, that’s the way to do it! And then we get a scene that could probably have been cut without losing anything. Maybe they thought people would be really really late coming in from intermission?
Salman is nervously waiting in a courtyard to meet a politician, with his little stack of papers. He is asking the politician for help with the blood bank, but the politician is distracted by the sound of his kids calling and asking him to take them to the market, and then a baby crying (Salman doesn’t exactly wince when he hears it, it’s more like he braces himself so that he won’t wince). I think the message isn’t so much that the politician is evil or that no one else cares about building this bloodbank, just that everyone else has other things in their lives that are distracting them. Salman is so completely alone, all he has going on is this blood bank. Sad! But not, you know, strictly necessary to move things along. If I had been in charge of editing this movie, I would have cut it.
Walking back to his sad apartment after this meeting (I assume, he is still carrying his file he had in the last scene), Salman is stopped by Amit. At first he ignores him and keeps walking, but then Amit follows him and argues that he will never make enough money for his blood bank this way, but if he comes with him and fights, he can do it! He can win! Salman hesitates and actually listens for a second.
And then goes home and looks at the sad (and illogical) cupboard of cans of money. And then at his wedding photo. And then he goes back to the same Masjid he had been visiting all along, where he spoke to Anushka for the first time years ago, and where he goes every afternoon now to watch her. Only, this time, he actually goes inside! He is beginning, just a little bit, to forgive himself and try to move past the guilt, to feel both worthy of entering God’s house, and of talking to Anushka again.
(Also, I think maybe this song is playing in the background? Thank goodness I am seeing it again tomorrow, because my memory is really going!)
She is tying a string and keeps looking at the strings the whole time he is talking to her. He tells her that he is going to fight again, he doesn’t expect her to care or forgive him, but he hopes she will pray for him. I think? I don’t remember the exact language, but I know he wasn’t asking for her forgiveness or trying to romance her. There was a definite tone of “You have a right to hear this from me, and I have a right to tell you in person, so I am.”
And then he takes his old duffel bag and gets a ride from Anant to take the bus to Delhi. And, establishing shot! Delhi!!! A bunch of buildings I don’t know! And, India Gate. At least I know that one. And then Salman is entering the big fancy lots of lights building that we saw in the opening news conference about the martial arts league who’s name I don’t remember.
Amit rushes out to greet him, and makes some comment about how quick he made up his mind. I like that, actually. Salman’s character isn’t really a hard guy to get to. He’s got a big old heart and he just likes to make people happy, all you have to do is get him to listen to what you ask, and he will do it. Anushka is the one with the uncompromising convictions.
While Salman waits in the lobby looking at the big scary posters of fighters, Amit is inside trying to convince some guy in charge to accept Salman as a fighter. The guy in charge looks at Salman on the security TV, all middle-aged and paunchy, and doesn’t believe he can fight. Amit keeps pushing it (this goes back to what I was saying in the first scene, he’s no the typical young corporate guy in a movie, he’s got a sort of raw fighting edge to him), and finally gets the guy to agree so long as Salman finds a sponsor.
So, on to a sponsor! Who IS this actor?!!? He looks kind of like a younger Ganesh Acharya. Not just because of the size, there is something about his smile and face that looks similar too. Anyway, he and Amit joke about their school days when they would hang out and eat street food together. And then Amit tries to sell him on having his pressure cooker company sponsor Salman, because then he will be like “Priety Zinta, Shahrukh Khan!”
(Ganesh Acharya is like 3 times as big as me, and 10 times as graceful)
Second Shahrukh Khan reference of the film, by the way. Way back when Salman was trying to get in to Kumud’s wrestling school, Kumud joked “What, am I supposed to welcome you with arms outstretched in a mustard field like Shahrukh Khan?” and Saman replied “Hey, don’t make fun of Shahrukh Khan! He knows how to romance a woman.” We never did get that rumored cameo of Shahrukh in a song after there were those set photos from when they were filming “Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai” (I never really had my hopes up anyway), but at least there are these two comments, so that’s nice!
Young Ganesh Acharya is also not like the typical young businessman. For one thing, his desk is just in a corner of a stock room filled with pressure cookers. For another, he isn’t wearing a suit, not even a cool-dude tieless suit like Amit. He’s in a t-shirt and leather jacket. And Amit isn’t relating to him like a businessman, he’s giving him the hard sell of being like a celebrity in a magazine, and pulling on their old days hanging out in Old Delhi.
One of the friends I saw this with argues that the point of this film isn’t rural India over modern India, or even India over the world, it’s just about being true to who you are and where you came from. I don’t know if I 100% agree with that, but I do think that is what is going with Amit’s character. He doesn’t have to become a farmer or anything like that, he can stay a suit wearing businessman in Delhi, but he needs to be a suit wearing businessman in Delhi who works with pressure cooker companies and talks to his old friends about Indian movie stars.
So, sponsor in place, time to find a trainer! Gosh-darn it, it’s Randeep Hooda! I’d skip all his scenes, because I don’t like his face, only he also gets my favorite line of the whole film, so I have to include him. Amit gives us a voice-over set-up, “Old Delhi, you can find anything there”. And then he explains that Randeep Hooda was the top underground fighter in London, but then he was accused of doping, and lost his Visa, and sent back to Delhi. Where he now runs a gym, training the best of the best. Really? You can lose your Visa and be sent back to India for doping in an underground fighting ring? What is underground fighting, anyway? From the name, I would assume the fighting itself was illegal, let alone the doping.
Oh, and also, Randeep’s character is Sikh. Which is cool, we’ve got our Muslim hero and heroine, Anant and Amit being his Hindu best friends, and now Randeep being the wise helpful guy who is Sikh, but a young cool Sikh, not an old bearded one. I love it! Including all the main religions, but moving them around from the usual Hindu hero, Muslim friend, and young Sikh guy instead of old wise Sikh guy to teach you. Awesome! And also reminds me of Rocky, just because Creed is the only American movie I can think of recently that had a young Black hero and an old wise helpful White man instead of the other way around. Anyway, Randeep looks at Salman and is not impressed. Amit argues with him, and finally Randeep says he can come back at 10am the next day and show him what he has.
And then there is the really really good scene. I just read a thing with the director (which of course now I can’t find (UPDATE: Found it! Or at least, a summary of it) where he talked about the filming process. He said Salman was really scared of this scene, he was scared of gaining the weight for it, he was scared of looking like that onscreen, he was scared of the whole thing. He agreed to do it, but asked for extra time to prepare. And then he did it, and walked off set without speaking to anyone else and didn’t come back until the next day.
So, the scene itself! Salman is in the locker room, it is kind of darkly lit, lots of shadows around. He sets down his duffel and pulls out the faded red one piece and carefully sets it out. Then he takes off his shirt and stands in front of the mirror, looking at his belly and sagging muscles. And his face works and his eyes widen and tries not to cry and kind of snuffles. And then he reaches over grabs his shirt and tries to put it back on, but the sleeve gets twisted, and he is really crying now, he straightens it out and yanks it back on, and buttons it, and then strides right out into the ring, tucking in his shirt and rolling up his pants. Now, for once, I think I get the meaning of the outfit. He’s so ashamed of his body, he can’t bear to get out of street clothes, so he is just rolling up his regular outfit instead of putting on his wrestling outfit.
Anyway, Randeep takes one look at his face and says “What? Did he cry all night?” But Salman is in a hurry to get in the ring (I like the way he moves in this scene, like he is hoping if he moves fast enough he won’t have time to be afraid). Randeep puts him in the ring with one of his fighters, who knocks Salman out in about 2 seconds. Randeep turns away casually and says to Amit, his initial objection from yesterday, “I don’t train dead people.” But in the ring, Salman is lying (laying?) on the ground and suddenly he remembers his triumphs of the past. We see quick black and white flashes of them as he remembers, and gains strength from remembering that he has a real power inside of him. And then he rises up, grabs the other fighter from behind, and slams him down on the ground! Randeep had already turned away, but he sees it reflected in a mirror and turns back.
Then Salman steps out of the ring and says the line from the trailer, “Just because I stopped wrestling, doesn’t mean I stopped fighting” and walks away. But that’s not my favorite line! My favorite line is what Randeep says to Amit after Salman walks away “Jat, hain?” And Amit responds “Assli” (sp?). Now, THAT’S my favorite line! SO COOL!!!!
Yeah, so, Randeep agrees to train Salman. And, TRAINING MONTAGE!!! Again! There’s no great Mother India moment like in the other one, but I do like the triumphant way he drops the pile of bricks at the end, just like I liked it in the trailer.
Training over, time to fight! Woot woot! But first, a big press conference in which our innocent young hero is a charming contrast to the sophisticated fighters! Because, once again, we have to follow the Rocky formula! Or maybe it is the formula for real life fights? I don’t know, I only watch Rocky! And since I don’t know what happens in real life fights, is it really common for the sponsors to be referred to as “owners” of the fighters? Because it sounds especially odd when the first two fighters introduced in this sequence as being “owned” happen to be Black.
Of course, just like in Rocky, everyone else is all tough and macho in their statements, and Salman is all sweet and simple. Even when a reporter asks him if he and his wife are divorced, he stays calm, just says that of course they aren’t divorced, divorce isn’t something they do, they are just fighting. She is a wrestler too, shouldn’t she be a little hot?
Meanwhile, back home, Anushka is moving back and forth putting dishes on the table for her father while he watches the press conference on TV. She comes out, grabs the remote, turns off the TV. He turns it back on. She comes out again, sits down, starts to eat facing away and pointedly not looking at it. Even when one of the fighters threatens to break Salman down and sending the pieces back to his wife, she doesn’t flinch.
I love Anushka SO MUCH! It would be so easy to break here, to show any concern, but she doesn’t at all. I also wonder about this scene, showing her in traditional clothing bringing out the meal. I mean, we had no indication that she didn’t always cook for her father. But certainly it was only post pregnancy that we started seeing her around the house out of her work out clothes, and hanging around the house. Now, here it is years later, and she is still making and serving meals in her Salwar. Is it just because that is how their household works, or is it part of her stubbornness, that she refuses to go back to the life she enjoyed before the baby as part of her self-flagellation?
Time for the first fight, woot-woot! Oh, there was a scene before that where Randeep told Salman who couldn’t watch the fight because he would be too nervous because he knows Salman will never give up until it kills him. And also says that Salman can survive everything, because the worst has already happened, he has lost his family (I guess Randeep was supposed to have a family back in London that he lost? How? Why? Even if I accept the whole “banished for doping” thing, could his family just come with him to India?)
But now, fight-fight! Salman is in the locker room looking at his hands when they start to shake. He takes a moment, and then Anant pops his head in and asks “ready?” Oh right, Anant is in Delhi! He showed up during the training montage, because Salman was having a hard time with road work, so Anant showed up to help them play the loose kite game. I love this as a character touch, that Salman can never get himself to do anything unless he has a goal in mind. But if he has a goal, he can do anything! So, no pointless jogging, but lots of chasing after kites. And a sad lonely existence, until someone challenges him to win the nameless mixed martial arts thing, and then he can defeat anyone.
Which is what he does now. Goes out into the stadium with a pressure cooker on the back of his robe, goes into the ring, looks like he is losing, and then wins! The cool thing is, he wins by doing a huge slam, just like back in the day, and then walks out of the ring without looking back before the referee has even finished the count. Amit, standing on the side-lines with his Dad, is confused. But his Dad explains “that was a Sultan special. They don’t get up from that”. And sure enough, the fighter can’t even stand up!
Meanwhile, back at the wrestling camp, they have the TV going out in the workout space, but Anushka refuses to look at it. She is focused on the two young girls she is training. Only, her little comments, her instructions to “focus!” or “take a moment” or “good-good”, can also match with what Salman is doing onscreen. Either she can’t help but be aware of what is happening, or he can somehow hear her instructions, or they are just so in synch that it happens like that. But either way, it’s good.
I forgot, this scene also introduces my least/most favorite characters: the color commentators. My least favorite, because I HATE sports commentators, I hate them in real life and I have the fake ones in movies, just let me watch the thing for myself and talk to the real people in the room with me! Don’t make me listen in on other people pretending to be watching in the room with me! But, on the other hand, SUPER HOT GUY! Oh my gosh! I think he may be the head of the “evil” Korean dance team in Happy New Year? And I am pretty sure I have also seen him in Zee TV ads. Anyway, HOT! Just, a joy to watch him on my screen.
So, Salman goes on to win a bunch of fights. The pressure cooker guys are thrilled and plaster his poster everywhere. Anushka can’t even go for her morning run without seeing his face. Meanwhile, back in Delhi, Salman has a sad lonely meal in his hotel, and puts in a DVD. It’s a super authentic looking wedding tape, lots of slides of group photos, and then at the end Anushka turns on the camera herself, she is still all dressed up in her wedding outfit, lying (laying?) on Salman’s chest. He is still dressed up too. She asks him if she will accept all her jokes? “Kabul” all her anger?” “Kabul” all her old age? And, he is asleep! She laughs at him, the bridegroom who fell asleep on his wedding day, and then curls up, smiling, on his chest. It’s so sweet! And intimate. It’s one of the few times we’ve seen her really let someone else in, be totally happy and comfortable with no guard up around her. Also, I kind of like the idea that he accepted her anger and her jokes officially, on their wedding night. So, he knew what he was getting into all along and he went into it open eyed and open hearted. And after he finishes watching the video, he sleeps.
That whole scene is thrown somewhere in the middle of this montage, but I know it must have already happened, because before his second to last fight, he is having another sad meal in his hotel, and I know we have already seen him eating before so that last scene must have happened. There is a knock on the door, he goes to answer, and it’s Amit! Amit, who has come to drag him out to a party for his birthday. Salman is legitimately touched, and delighted that Amit is having a birthday, and thought of him. But he gently turns him down, he isn’t really one for parties. Amit flops down on the hotel couch with him and says “Fine! Then we will both sit here! I can’t celebrate without my brother.” Awwww! Now I am legitimately touched! Oh, also, Amit brought a suit bag with him, so he could dress Salman up for their evening out.
At the nightclub, Anant is there too, looking awkward. Salman is in the same kind of cool tieless suit that Amit likes. A bunch of young women are fawning over Salman and he is smiling, but gently turning them down. He isn’t as awkward as Anant, but it doesn’t feel like this is really his scene, so much as that he is the kind of guy who will always be comfortable with himself anywhere. Finally, the young women keep pushing him to say why he won’t give up on his wife, and all he can say is that she is “different”. Until he gives up on describing her in regular words, and song!
Such a pretty song! I like the little flashbacks we get to their married life, it’s the same kind of thing we saw in the wedding video, their own private world of happiness and trust, where Anushka could be silly and Salman could be weak. And I like the present day part in the nightclub with everyone being sympathetic and respectful while Salman sings. I was all set for an awkward nightclub scene with everyone being too young and energetic for them. But instead, they are nice people who are interested in what he has to say and in listening to his song. Oh, and I also noticed that Salman isn’t quite as energetic as he used to be, it’s not super obvious, but when he does his lying (laying?) down dance move, Anant and Amit have to pop out from the crowd to help him to stand up again. Anyway, SONG! And THE END. For today. Hopefully tomorrow I make it through to the end.