A script without substance and loud songs with frivolous lyrics, make the first one-hour of Sultan silly to the point of being embarrassing.
But if you manage not to walk out, the remaining 1 hour and 50 minutes will be absolutely mesmerising.
This is a touching coming of age movie that grows on you scene after scene, fight after fight, line after line.
Director Ali Abbas Zafar weaves moral and message with terrific sporting entertainment.
‘Wrestling is not a sport. It is about fighting what lies within’ – the opening line sets the tone for what is to come.
When Salman Khan as Sultan slaps his shoulder and thigh and moves with lightning speed towards his opponent, you know this is as good as the real thing. The intensive training that he underwent with international action director Larnell Stovall comes alive in every fight scene.
The power, the technique and the raw force of the sport has been recreated with such thumping authenticity that one could well be watching a real wrestling championship tournament.
The brutal training, the simmering anger, the pain and finally the redemption make for a gripping viewing.
Sultan Ali Khan, a Haryanvi village lad is smitten by local wrestling champion Aarfa Hussain, played by Anushka Sharma. Stung by her rejection and to prove himself, he learns the sport with dogged determination.
Through winning tournaments, Aarfa’s heart, and eventually the Olympic gold, Sultan is now the poster boy of India’s wrestling sport.
Until arrogance takes over, leading to a fall from grace and tragedy.
Ten years later, when Sultan slaps his chest and thigh once again, it is for redemption, but of a different kind. And this time he must learn a new fight – Mixed Martial Arts.
The opponents are global superstars; the rules are alien and the ring is not his traditional Akhara.
The battle for vindication is not just Sultan’s. Akash Oberoi (Amit Sadh) must prove himself to the Board by salvaging the pro wrestling league that has incurred heavy losses in the first two years. He brings Sultan to Delhi for a do or die final league tournament.
Then there is former freestyle martial arts champion Fateh Singh, played by Randeep Hooda who agrees to coach him for the pro wrestling tournament. He has his own ghosts to be laid to rest.
As Sultan moves from anonymity to stardom, his wife Aarfa’s life crumbles from happiness to tragedy.
Through loss, pain and anger, Sultan and Aarfa must now struggle against their souls to give life another chance, to forgive each other and ultimately forgive themselves. This is the essence of Sultan.
Anushka Sharma as Aarfa is outstanding. She puts up a restrained and mature performance bringing out the different shades of her character – a feisty Haryanvi girl, a focused champion, a supportive wife and a deeply pained woman. Without hysteria or contorted expressions, she delivers a character that you can relate to. That she looks absolutely stunning minus the make up is a bonus.
Sultan’s Akhara coach (and Aarfa’s father) Barkat Husain, Govind his friend and Akash Oberoi underline the lesson that when people believe in you, you can move mountains. Kumud Mishra (Barkat) and Anant Vidhat Sharma (Govind) put up solid performances. Amit Sadh as Akash Oberoi has tremendous potential.
Randeep makes his entry in the second half. Intense, brooding and unrelenting, he plays his role to the hilt. Forgive the completely silly scene that introduces him as Fateh eating pudding off little bowls with his finger.
It’s great to watch Salman once again in a rustic role. The brawn and body this time are showcased strictly for the sport. Everything else is conveyed through his eyes. With Bajrangi Bhaijaan and now Sultan, this is in a way Salman's coming of age too.
‘Jag Ghoomeya Thaare Jaisa Na Koi’ by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan will be counted among some of the most beautiful songs of recent times.
Old houses, tiny railway stations with steam engines, buffaloes lumbering about, cow dung on the walls for the kiln and kite flying – all captured in the rustic locales of Rewari (Haryana), Ludhiana (Punjab), Muzzafarnagar (UP) and old Delhi, come alive and lend a raw earthiness to the film.
What leaves you smiling throughout however, is the delightful Haryanvi accent.
Manne picture achchi lagi.