Sultan – It lives up to the hype

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If it’s Eid, it must be time for the big Salman Khan movie!  There has been so much hype around Sultan, for months and months, and one can’t help but worry that the movie won’t meet the raised expectations.  But thankfully, it does!  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I saw the movie together at the Indian MovieMax theater about 45 minutes from me.  It was quite the experience to see it opening night with a big crowd all dressed to the nines for Eid festivities they were going to after the film.

For me, Dabanng and Bajrangi Bhaijaan are two of my favorite Salman Khan movies, and some of his best work.  Sultan is good.  It’s very good, but for me, it’s not quite at the same level as those two movies.  Salman’s acting has moments of greatness in Sultan, and Anushka Sharma is simply amazing.  But the musical numbers in Sultan, while good, are not jaw droppingly great like in Dabanng and Bajrangi Bhaijaan.  Selfie Le Le Re and Tere Mast Mast Do Nain are extremely high bars to beat, however.  The songs in Sultan are pretty catchy, but I’m not running out to download the soundtrack, to be honest.

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Also, as I mentioned in my review of 1983, sports movies are not really my thing.  So a wrestling movie on top of a Mixed Martial Arts movie is not really my go to genre.  But it’s a measure of the strength of the movie, that I was completely sucked in.  My friend Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood have been wondering about the clues of the plot that we could see in the trailer.  Obviously there was some sort of tragedy in Sultan’s life, and we dreaded that he might be a widower in the second comeback half of the film.  I won’t spoiler what that tragedy is, but I can tell you that there is a happy ending and Anushka’s character does not die.

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I also wondered why Anushka Sharma agreed to be in a Salman Khan movie.  Her character is fantastic — a super strong wrestler, tough as nails, dominant even in a room of guys including Salman, and a fully formed character with her own flaws, firm to the point of being rigid at times.  I’m so glad she took on the challenge of this film.  She just keeps getting better and better with her acting in each film.

Salman meets her by knocking her off her bike and then hitting her helmeted head, not knowing she’s a woman.  Then she takes off her helmet and wallops Salman, as he stands there love struck.  He pursues her, but she rejects him as a suitor, telling him that he quite simply doesn’t measure up.  She is driven and has her goal to get to the Olympics, and he is just aimless.  Let me just say, watching Anushka verbally destroy Salman was really something to see.

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Their romance is what spurs Sultan to be a better man to win her.  To become a championship wrestler.  I loved their romance storyline, and Salman being sweet loving Sultan is fantastic.  What tears them apart is the key to him giving up wrestling.  Again, I won’t spoiler it, but those moments I really teared up, and were some of the most powerful in the film for me.

The framing of the comeback is that Amit Sadh is trying to get MMA off the ground in India, and needs an Indian fighter.  (Why haven’t we seen Amit Sadh more? – glad to look up and see he’s in the upcoming Akira.)  Randeep Hooda is the coach that trains Sultan in MMA.  Cue Rocky training montage.  (Seriously, there are so many Rocky homages in this film.)

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You’ve seen the scene in the trailer where Salman stares at his overweight belly in a mirror and breaks down.  What the trailer doesn’t show is that he then struggles to get his shirt back on, fighting with the sleeve as he cries hard.  It may have been the single best acting scene I’ve ever seen Salman do.

While the movie is pretty wonderful, there were some off moments.  Two of the MMA fighters are black, and at a press event the announcers refer in English (not just bad subtitles) to their owners, and not sponsors.  WTF??  Also, Salman refers to a the lightning quick style of one black fighter this way – “Is he more gorilla or chimpanzee?”  Again. W. T. ever-living F.??

That nonsense aside, the last fight is riveting, and I didn’t know what was going to happen which is uncommon in a sports film, believe me.  Much better MMA fights (like I would really know?) than last year’s Brothers.  It’s solid entertainment, and you’ll leave satisfied.

Four stars out of five.  Eid Mubarak!

Read Margaret’s spoiler free review of Sultan here.  And her full analysis with spoilers here on Don’t Call It Bollywood.

 

 

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1983 – A Sweet Cricket Sports Drama Starring Nivin Pauly

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I’m not a huge sports movie fan, but 1983 was touching and enjoyable.  I also don’t know anything about cricket, but that is no hindrance in watching Nivin Pauly’s love of the game.

The first half of the film shows us Rameshan (Nivin Pauly) as a child obsessed by cricket.  There’s one TV in their small Kerala village and he and his friends are forever changed by India winning its first Cricket World Cup in 1983.  They sneak away from chores and skip homework and studying for tests to play cricket together.

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Nivin hits a girl in the head with an errant cricket ball, and has a wonderful childhood romance.  But she’s good in school and moves on to university, while he is left behind in the village working for his father.  He marries another girl in an arranged marriage, and horrors, she doesn’t even recognize a picture of Sachin!

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In the second half, Nivin still plays club cricket with his old pals, and sees the glimmer of talent in his son.  To the disgust of Nivin’s father, who still thinks cricket is a waste of time, Nivin seeks out coaching for his son.  They take a bus hours away every weekend to the next big town to try for a spot in a sports school.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nivin Pauly play a father, and that was some of my favorite parts of the film.  I also liked his relationship with his wife.  She supports him and stands up for him with his parents.  They don’t have a grand passion, but they work together as a couple.

This movie has the leisurely pace of Malayalam films.  Maybe a little too leisurely at times.  It’s not a surprise that this is the debut feature of the director, fashion photographer Abrid Shine.  But it’s still an enjoyable watch, and Nivin Pauly, as usual is great.  1983 is beautifully shot, and even though I’m a no-nothing with cricket, I could follow the exciting parts of the cricket games.  It wasn’t confusing to me as it sometimes is.  Sometimes cricket games are filmed in Indian films expecting you to know what is happening, but here I could tell Nivin was good and the way the games were shot highlighted that.

Three and a half stars out of five.  1983 is available for rental on Amazon Video.