Last bit! Not because I’m so close to the end, but because we are coming up on the weekend and I can’t face carrying this thing through to another week. So, if you want to know the end-end of Sultan, what happens to all the characters and how it happens, then read on!
You ready for 2 hours of film in one paragraph of text so we can be situated for this final section? Here goes! Fight promoter Amit Sadh convinced aging wrestler Salman to come fight in his mixed martial arts competition by appealing to his heart and his dream of building a blood bank in his home town, after Amit learned the whole sad story from Salman’s old friend Anant of how Salman fell in love with Anushka, and then lost her when he became too focused on his success and forgot about his family. Specifically, when he ignored her request to skip a competition in order to be there for the birth of their child, and then the child died shortly after birth while he was still out of the country because there was no one available to donate blood of the specific type shared by both Salman and the baby. Now, Salman is finally fighting for his life again, has trained with Randeep Hooda, found his old fighting skills, and is winning all the big martial arts thingies, while Anushka pointedly ignores him on the TV. Amit took him out to a party for Amit’s birthday, and Salman ended up singing a pretty song in honor of Anushka, all about how she was different than any other woman.
Of course, this being modern times, someone pulled out their cell phone and recorded the song, and now it has spread all over India, and Salman has a new nickname, “Romeo Wrestler”. It’s nice alliteration, but I’m not thrilled by the un-Indian reference. Why not “Majnu Wrestler” or something?
I do like how modern technology has been brought into this film from the beginning. It can be tempting to show the difference between village life and city life as a difference in time, not just place. As though villages don’t have cell phones and internet and satellite TV. All along, this film has avoided that. Yes, the villagers dress a little old-fashioned, and they all seem to know each other’s business, and they can stare a little when they visit the big cities. But they know how cell phones work, and they watch TV, and they can handle themselves out in the “real world” just fine, just as Amit was a little out of his space in Salman’s village, but nothing he couldn’t really handle.
(I mean, “Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai” was all about how village weddings in little courtyards have DJs and big speakers now, they aren’t just traditional singing and drumming any more)
So, yeah, news of Salman’s song, and the video of it, makes its way rapidly to Anushka. Culminating in one of her wrestlers telling her his son made her a card. His son wants to change his name to Sultan, because Sultan is a “real” hero, not like those film stars who don’t really do anything (interesting message here, that being a “real” hero requires personal sacrifice, risk, and danger). And he made her a picture. Anushka opens it, it is a crudely drawn crayon image of a wrestler leaning out of the ring saying “forgive me” and a female figure in a green dress looking up at him. Anushka manages to smile and accept it, not say “tell your son he is a Nosy Parker and to stay out of our marriage!”
The whole song sweeping the nation and card from the kid thing, I would find that really really uncomfortable if there was any sense that Salman was coordinating it, that he was trying to pressure her into forgiving him. But instead, to me, it feels like he is just being himself and being honest. And part of being himself is letting the whole world know how much he loves Anushka. Again, going back to a previous post, he could just as easily be fixing a roof across from her house as competing in an international fighting something-or-other. The point is that he is “alive” again and not afraid to be open and express himself. And part of expressing himself is always going to be his love for her, because that is the core of who he is. Anushka is resisting not just forgiving him, but letting herself feel his love again, feel her own love again, forgiving herself.
But enough of that, back to the fight scenes! Salman has to fight another wrestler for the first time, not a boxer or someone trained in one of the other martial arts. This is someone who can understand and counter his moves. And it is just a brutal fight (this is the point at which one person I saw this with twisted all the way around in her chair and hid her face against the wall with her fingers in her ears). Salman ends up on the ground, seemingly knocked out, and the other fighter starts positioning himself to come in for the kill. While Salman is lying (laying?) on the ground, he looks past Amit who is cheering him on and sees Anushka! Standing there, smiling at him! I literally gasped the first time I saw this, I was so happy! She came! She does care! She forgives him! But then there is a quick shot from Amit’s perspective, and there isn’t actually anyone behind him. So, gosh-darn it, it is just a dream.
However, it is a helpful dream. Salman watches her smiling face, and when she gives him a little nod, he suddenly rolls to the side, just in time to make his opponant land flat on the mat and win the match! He stands long enough for the referee to grab his hand and declare him the win, and then slowly falls to the ground himself.
While we wait for the scene change, I just remembered a couple of nice things from the earlier fights which I wanted to mention. First, before he left for Delhi, he went to Kumud’s wrestling studio and filled a bag with soil from his wrestling pit. Before every match, we see him empty a little from that bag onto his hands. Very nice.
Also, in the middle of the first match, when it still looked really bad and he was losing, Anant came into the ring as his corner man and gave him water and ice. Only, he forgot to bring in the stool, and they didn’t have enough time to go back for it, so he told Salman “just squat”. It was a great little moment of clumsy unprofessionalism to show how out of their depth they both were.
Back to here! Salman has fallen down, he is rushed to the hospital! The doctor comes out to talk to Amit and tell him that if Salman fights again, he will die. Amit says he knows that, he doesn’t want him to fight, but Salman is the one who needs to be convinced. Awwww! Amit started this whole thing because he wanted a popular fighter to bring in the crowds, but now he is willing to cancel the final fight and destroy his unmemorably named martial arts contest thing, because he just wants Salman to be healthy again. Awwww!
(Also, I may have kind of a crush on Amit Sadh. Or maybe just a crush on his character in this. I can’t decide)
Meanwhile, Anant is on the phone to Anushka. He calls her “Bhabhi” (just like when they first met and she objected to it because she wasn’t willing to admit she was in love with Salman!) and tells her Salman is in the hospital, it’s real bad, he has arranged her bus tickets for her. And that’s it, that’s all it takes to get her to come to Delhi.
See, no matter what the rest of the world thinks, Salman and Anushka and those closest to them (Anant and Kumud) always knew that they were married. I mean, that’s what he said to the reporter, “of course we are married!” She may not want to see or talk to him, but he would of course say good-bye before he left town, and if he is in the hospital, everyone knows she will immediately come to see him. It doesn’t feel like there was a big change, like she suddenly realizes she loves him again or anything like that, the connection has always been there and the two of them always knew about it, it just only really shows to outsiders in extreme moments like this.
So, Anushka shows up. She listens to the doctor and Amit who tell her that Salman will die if he fights again. And then she goes in to see him. And I am going to try really hard to remember this scene in detail. I think he sees her come in, and the first exchange is him inviting her to sit on his bed, he won’t break. And then, I think, she talks first. Both of them have clearly thought out exactly what they want to say and where their positions are. But they are also ready to listen to the other person and understand them. Neither of them are really trying to excuse themselves, they are just saying why they did what they did.
Anushka says that she thinks, sometimes, a smaller pain can mask a big pain. That he came to see her at the Masjid every day, but did he ever wonder why she went there every day? It was so she could see his face.
It re-frames the whole “tragic love story” we were told before. Remember, we were told that from Anant’s perspective, seeing Salman go to the Masjid every day and Anushka not look at him. But inside, both of them felt the pain of their separation, but the pain of their son’s death was by far the greater pain. Maybe the outside world only saw them as a married couple living apart, but inside of them the pain of their separation was just a distraction from their greater pain. And both Salman and Anushka were using that, were torturing themselves with glimpses of each other, in order to keep that pain alive.
Salman listens to her, and responds “The pain of a mother is great, but is the pain of a father any less? He was my son too.” An important point! Reminding her that she chose to suffer in isolation, that he was suffering as well and she pushed away the one person in the world who could understand her.
Or maybe not. I don’t remember all of Anushka’s next point, I think there was a first part (or maybe this is when she makes the “little pain to mask a bigger” point). But I know the end of this speech is when she gets really fierce and strong, not yelling or emotional, but clearly feeling this deeply, as she finishes “And, you are wrong, the pain of a mother is greater than the pain of a father!”
Like, 30 % of the time I might disagree with that statement. But in their particular situation, oh my goodness is she right! She is the one who got to know this child as she carried it for 9 months, she is the one who had to watch it die hours after going through labor, she is the one who gave up all her dreams and hopes just to bring this life into the world, and was rewarded with grief and pain. Anushka suffered so much more than Salman, she had the right to torture him however she needed to in order to make herself feel a little bit better. And Salman acknowledges that with a quiet “sorry”. And that’s all it takes for them to make up.
Well, not “all it takes”. This isn’t a “and then you win the girl!” kind of movie, so I don’t think Salman “gets” Anushka back just because he won a bunch of fights or anything like that. But I think there was also slightly more to it than just this one conversation. They needed that time apart to grieve in isolation, they needed that time to suffer until they ran out of the ability to suffer, and at the right moment, Salman needed a new goal that would jump him out of himself, and Salman needed to provide that push of love and interest in the world to force Anushka out of herself.
Anushka is his biggest challenge, and the only person who really insists on him trying his utmost, the only person who sees his full measure of strength. Which is also why, I think, it was all right for her to punish him so much for their son’s death. Because she knew he could take it, and he knew she knew and didn’t resent her for it. And that’s why now, having made up with him, she tells him that all the doctors and friends out there are saying he can’t fight again. But they don’t know him like she does, so she wants him to go out there and fight again. So cool! For once, the wife character isn’t being the nay-saying wet blanket, but the supportive “ray ray, I know you can do it!” person.
And then, outside the hospital, we see the cheering mob. And Salman walks out on the balcony with Anushka, then grabs her hand and raises their joined hands in the air as she smiles. Reminded me SO MUCH of Iruvar!!!! It’s almost the exact same shot! Which is an interesting comparison right there, both films are about partnerships between two people who know each other better than anyone else in the world, only Iruvar is about two long time friends and film and politics, while Sultan is about a husband and wife and sports.
(Iruvar! You should watch it! The script holds together a little worse than this one, but the songs are better than everything else)
Anushka having come back to him, now it’s time for the final fight! Fight fight fight! Oh, and first a final conversation with Anushka in the locker room. She pulls out the soil from the bag this time and pours it on his hands, then brushes it off her own fingers. It’s lovely, an acknowledgement of her as the only person close enough to him to share this ritual, as his guru in fighting, and as the personal priestess in his life. And then she tells him that she will be waiting for him in the locker room when he comes back. He looks back, and asks her to greet him with a smile, not a frown like now. She smiles at him, he smiles back, and then he leaves. So sweet! So exactly the same as Rocky I! But I don’t care, I love Rocky I.
(Rocky I! So good! So romantic! The biggest similarity between Rocky and Sultan is that at heart they are both love stories between two people, and the fight scenes are only there to support that)
Fight fight fight! As always, first he is losing, and then he is winning. The opponent keeps hitting him on his broken rib, and we can see the bruise show up on his chest with every hit. To distract myself from going “ow ow ow ow ow”, I start trying to find the body double in this scene. It is very smoothly done, they just go for overhead shots or from the back for some of the faster moves. I can recognize the difference because the double’s body is actually leaner than Salman’s. Which matches with the kind of moves they have him do, Salman can stand in one place and take the hits, and he can lift people in the air and throw them down, because he has the muscles and the bulk to do it. But he can’t do the stuff that is easier if you are lighter, jumps and spins and stuff like that.
Somewhere in the middle, the referee calls time and Salman goes to the corner and Anant runs in to check with him. He wants to call the fight, so does Amit, but Salman refuses. He does ask Anant to “stay close to Bhabhi”. It’s an odd translation, it sounds like he is telling Anant to go be with Anushka now, during the fight. I’ll have to listen and see if I can catch the original Hindi, but I assume the meaning is closer to “if anything happens to me, make sure Anushka isn’t alone again.”
He keeps getting hit, the crowd is looking tense, he ends up on the ground and starts to pass out. In the locker room, Anushka clasps her hands together in prayer, inadvertently letting the soil start to run out of the bag Salman brought. Salman starts to pass out as visions of his life flash before his eyes, ending with the empty cradle of their son. The clock counts down 3 seconds. I get distracted thinking about how very very much longer this has been than 3 seconds. FINALLY, Anushka grabs at the bag right before all the soil pours out, Salman has a surge of energy, and rises up and throws his opponent to the ground, winning the match! The crowd surges forward, he is given the title belt! Anant comes to hug him, Amit rushes to join in!
Just like the end of Rocky I, Anushka has to fight her way through the crowd from the locker room, calling out to him. She finally makes it to the front, and the embrace as the lights flash and the crowd cheers. In the whole list of fight movie ending scenes, I think it would go Rocky I, then Warrior, then this for me. It’s pretty darn triumphal.
(Another fight movie that isn’t really about the fighting at all)
And, happy end credits montage! Thank goodness, after all that sadness! Salman gives his champion ship belt to Randeep and tells him “I’m not trained by dead people”, reminding him not to give up hope on his own happiness. Amit’s Dad tells him he is proud of him, which he realized in an earlier scene (maybe before his birthday party?) was the one thing he wanted most, even more than success for his business. Anushka and Salman open up the Aman Blood Bank in their home town. Anushka returns to the state wrestling competitions “for the first time in 8 years” as the announcer tells us, while Salman happily watches from the sidelines (this is what I am saying about her punishing herself by cutting out everything happy in her life. It wasn’t just Salman, she didn’t let herself compete any more either, just surviving in a living death).
And then, Salman waits anxiously in the doctor’s waiting room, while a heavily veiled figure sits next to him (This MUST be a cameo from someone! The director, or Aditya Chopra, or something! There’s no reason for that actor to be there, or to be so heavily veiled, in this scene). The doctor comes out and tells him to distribute sweets, she’s pregnant again! This time, instead of rushing out to celebrate, Salman stays back to wait to see Anushka. She asks him if he wants a daughter or a son, and he says “pull out a daughter for me”.
Cut to Amit dogging reporters, it is time for the next whatever-the-name-is competition, and they want to know where Salman is, if he will be fighting again. Amit says he doesn’t know where Salman is or what he is doing, but where ever he is, he will definitely be fighting.
And then we see Salman, all mustache and macho, come striding out into a wrestling right, put his hands on his hips, and glare at his opponent. Who is the tiniest cutest little girl in the world! Oh my gosh, SO CUTE!!!!!! In her little French braids and her little wrestling onesie on her tiny little person! It just KILLS ME!!!! Especially with Salman being all big and macho, and this tiny little person grinning up at him with no fear at all! And then Anushka runs up and grabs her from behind, and she starts to giggle, and then Salman is grabbing her too, and it turns into a whole family free-for-all, until finally we freeze frame on the 3 of them facing the camera, happy again.
So, in the end, it wasn’t a wrestling picture or a sports picture. It was about a couple who were separated when their son died, finally finding a way to be happy again and to love a new child. A new child who is, and I have to say this again, THE CUTEST THING IN THE WORLD!!!!