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Sultan: Salman, not quite on top of this game

The artificial divide of the interval renders the film into two distinct, disjointed halves.

Somewhere in the second half of the Ali Abbas Zafar film Randeep Hooda, who plays the coach of wrestler Sultan (Salman Khan) says of him: “Jat hai na asli (Isn’t he a true blue jat)”. I was immensely amused by the unwitting irony embedded in the line. That a real off-screen jat should be giving brownie points to an eminently faux on-screen one sporting a laboured, indistinct Haryanvi accent that flits in and out of his mouth at its own sweet will and discretion. Not that my observation matters. Even the Haryanvis amongst his die-hard fans will cross swords with me for making that disapproving comment. But then Sultan (or for that matter any other Bhai film) has to be seen as independently of his crazy fans and their riotous reactions at Galaxy as of his infamous “rape” remarks. So let me stick my neck out and say that the Haryanvi and the Haryana in the film are cringingly irritating. As is the accented English of the in-film Aaj Tak reporter (the willing suspension of disbelief be damned). Just a month back there was the much reviled Laal Rang, starring Hooda that got the rough and rustic lingo and earthy humour spot on. Here the accent itself becomes a joke. A juvenile, inane one at that. Saying “yo sai (it is)”, sory for sorry and test for taste doesn’t make things authentically Haryanvi but wildly witty for the fans it seems. However, I still can’t fathom what was so funny about the Chyawanprash, “Baby ko bass pasand hai” and “sit (shit) boy” jokes?

The artificial divide of the interval renders the film into two distinct, disjointed halves. The first one refuses to come alive what with the forced humour, the in your face starry moments — like the one of Sultan taking a tractor out of a pit, running past a train and also the overt, practised cuteness of a country bumpkin eventually winning over his hard to please girl.

But these cribs apart the film does try and aim to do a lot of things other than presenting the colour coordinated, long, choreographed bouts of wrestling (in which tractors are given away for gifts) for our pleasure. Take the gender angle for instance. In spite of being a Bhai film it showcases the woman’s cause — PM’s beti bachao abhiyan in the backdrop of Haryana, infamous for female foeticide and a lopsided sex ratio. What could be nicer? There are posters upon posters plastered on the walls of the village homes — “yahi vachan hai sabse achcha, rahe surakshit jachha bachha (the best vow is that mother and new born should both remain safe)” or “ghar mein shauchalaya banwayein, bahu beti baahar na jaayein (build toilets at home so that women don’t have to venture out)”. There is Aarfa, a woman wrestler for a heroine. But for every step forward in breaking the stereotypes there is the curiously disconcerting comfort of the status quo. That odd line that is thrown in about Aarfa’s father having brought her up “like a boy”. She gets a stamp of approval for being baahar se modern par andar se desi (Rani Lakshmibai if you may please). And that age-old cliché gets reinforced that a woman has to be a man’s muse, there has to be a woman behind every successful man (in this case she is made to feel the guilt for dissing him too, to eventually come around to marrying him). We are made to feel good implicitly that her husband allows her to carry on with sports after marriage. And when it comes to the biggest dilemma — child or career — she makes the expected choice.

There are many other causes the film, nay Salman as Sultan, fights for; he even decides to name his son Aman because the violent world needs some peace. But quite like Jai Ho, and unlike the sharp and smart Bajrangi Bhaijaan, these causes make Sultan feel like a Being Human franchisee than just another film.

Then quickly things take an Abhimaan turn and some emotional punches later it is back to the predictable arc of any sports film. This time in the arena of mixed martial arts. This is when things get energetic and pulsating. And Salman gets to don his true colours and comes on his own after the rather disinterested acting in the first half — the much misunderstood good boy for whom love and marriage has no expiry date, who folds his hands in apology after every fight, the true son of the soil who won’t touch cigarette or alcohol, the underdog who will win over the whole of the world and then twirl his mousch. Wish there was more time and complexity given to Aarfa and her relationship with Sultan. You can sense the gloomy, bleak, problematic layers in it but the film refuses plumb the depths of it. Then it wouldn’t have remained a bhai film.

Source: The Hindu


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