Designed in the template of a sports drama, the film is packed with emotional tropes. The plot is predictably staid, yet engaging. It highlights issues like the girl child, love, arrogance and confidence.
Set in Rewari in Haryana, Sultan (Salman Khan) is an unfocussed simpleton who woos Aarfa Husain (Anushka Sharma), a promising wrestler. When she makes him realise that he has no goal in life and hence no identity, he takes it upon himself to prove his mettle.
He works toward becoming, “Sultan - The World Wrestling Champion - King of the ring”. But the narrative goes beyond this. While Sultan’s tale is engrossing, director Ali Abbas Zafar’s screenplay definitely seems old-fashioned and one-dimensional, where most scenes are constructed to show Sultan suffering.
Narrated in a non-linear format and the dialogue, “Doctor ki biwi doctor, aur pehelwan ki biwi pehelwan,” which surfaces in the initial scenes, is confusing as the screenplay depicts Sultan already as an established wrestler.
Relief comes in the form of comic moments generated from dialogues and typical Salman Khan-ish humour.Sultan belongs to Salman Khan. He has tried hard to physically and mentally transform himself as Sultan.
With his posture, gait, speech, bruised face and flexing muscles, he portrays the character’s emotional anguish in every scene – be it in the wrestling arena or when he is pining for his wife Aarfa. But then he is an extension of himself, the charismatic Salman Khan.
On screen, he lacks energy and looks fatigued. Anushka as Aarfa is effortlessly charming and her on screen chemistry with Salman has its awkward moments, which is camouflaged skilfully within the narrative. Randeep Hooda in a minuscule and poorly etched role as Fateh – Sultan’s freestyle wrestling coach – is perfunctory and wasted.
Anant Sharma as Sultan’s buddy Govind, Kumud Misra as Aarfa’s father Barkat Ali and Amit Sadh as Akash Oberoi the sports promoter, have their moments of on-screen glory.
Production designer Rajnish Hedao’s sets are brilliant and they are realistically captured by Artur Zurawski’s dramatic cinematography. He also captures Sultan in dramatic frames that boost his star image- him racing the train, doing push-ups above the gushing waters of a canal and pulling the tractor. Unfortunately, these training images seem generic and have been done to death.
The lyrics, “Khoon mein mitti aur mitti mein tera khoon, Yeh Sultan,” with its adrenaline rushing tenor, effectively boosts the viewing experience. Overall, Sultan captures your heart with Salman’s aura and persona and the emotional quotient, but one wished it was a little more crisp and taut.