For all the moolah that Sultan might have raked in, the movie is nothing but a run of the mill love story poorly woven around wrestling with the forever-shirtless Khan stripped down to his underwear at the center, mouthing and spitting dialogues in bad Haryanvi with his Dabangg style hanging in like it was the essence of his acting, or the wings on which his performance could soar the highest. The whole mustache-caressing act after delivering the never-failing final blow during the wrestling matches makes one wonder if one was watching the wrestler version of the Chulbul ‘Dabangg’ Pandey, the laboured Haryanvi notwithstanding.
The movie opens by giving us a peek at the dismal commercial state of a private Mixed Martial Arts league founded by a young man called Akash Oberoi (Amit Sadh), whose father – played by Parikshit Sahni – advises him to get former world wrestling champion Sultan in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) ring to reinvigorate the dying MMA league. Akash travels to a sleepy, remote village in Haryana to meet Sultan, who has an ample paunch cultivated by natural processes over the past eight years out of the ring spent crying over a marriage that is broken but not buried.
The adipose deposits on Sultan’s belly convince Akash that he is not the man he had come looking for in the hope of having his dream league revived. But while he is relaying his rather unflattering opinion about Sultan on phone to his father, who had been one of the judges judging the state-level wrestling matches in the past, someone gets Sultan out of the office to help them get the tractor out of the ditch. And the He-Man Sultan turns into a human jack instantly and nearly lifts the tractor clear of the ditch quite effortlessly. An impressed Akash changes his mind and decides to enlist the He-Man to get his MMA league out of the financial ditch it had sunk into. Sultan thanks Akash for the offer and sends his regards to his father, but declines the offer in very clear terms. He was not entering the ring again, and no sum of money and no degree of fame could persuade him to. Being in dire need with Sultan as his only viable option, Akash has no alternative but to persist, which he does. His attempt at winning Sultan over to his side involves knowing the reason for Sultan’s dogged refusal to enter the ring. The director throws open the window to Sultan’s past, and we get to know the love story behind the rise and fall of the great Sultan.
It turns out that Sultan did not start out with an ambition. He was happily set in his kite-running ways despite the mature adulthood helping his friend run and expand his cable TV business. Then a day comes when Sultan enters into a kite-running bet with a few taunting friends, and while he is parkouring around in pursuit of the elusive kite that he is sure to catch, he dashes into a tomboyish Aarfa (Anushka Sharma), who doesn’t think twice before giving him a good thrashing. Sultan falls in love instantly, and the kite falls into the hands of someone else. The bet is lost, and as per the terms of the bet, he gets a ride around Rewari on a donkey with his face blackened and the love-struck smile flashing bright.
Sultan finds out that Aarfa is the wrestler daughter of a wrestling coach, Barkat Ali, who runs a training facility for wrestling – Jaanbaaz Akhaara – in the same town. Sultan sees Aarfa wrestling and decides that she is the woman he would marry, and further decides that he would also become a wrestler so that it could be a wedding of the wrestlers. Like a doctor marries a doctor, and an engineer marries an engineer, he would also become a wrestler so that Aarfa wrestler could marry Sultan wrestler, he reasons. Obviously, Sultan does not exactly shine at reasoning, which looks and sounds pretty understandable. The next day he appears at the doors of the Jaanbaaz Akhaara seeking place under Barkat Ali’s wing. Reluctant in the beginning, Barkat Ali yields to Sultan’s antics. Eventually, Sultan and Aarfa become friends, but for Sultan it was never about being friends with her. Strangely, Aarfa is infuriated when she finds that Sultan’s friends treat her as his girlfriend and their almost-bhabhi.
That’s a little surprising, given the setting of the film. Aarfa doesn’t come across as quite as innocent as to not understand the social implications of freely moving around with a guy in a conservative village of Haryana. She goes a step further and tells Sultan that he is just not good enough for her to think anything beyond friendship with him. That’s ‘friendzoning’ of the brutal, gob-smacking kind. Needless to say, Sultan responds in the typical Bollywood-hero fashion, and decides to prove a point. Of course, Salman would not be the star he is if the Bollywood directors could direct him to fail at being a ‘hero’. So, Salman wrestles, becomes a world champion and wins over Aarfa, like she was another perk of success.
Quite naturally, Sultan, who owes all his happiness to being a wrestling champion, starts valuing success over and above everything, and if one is not very levelheaded, success is quite a heady drug. It hits Sultan hard, and he gets all puffed up with pride and self-importance. Aarfa gets pregnant, and she leaves all her Olympic medal dreams behind to make a family with and for Sultan while Sultan gets too self-absorbed to realize and appreciate the sacrifice made by Aarfa though his love for her remains just as strong as ever. She gets pregnant, which her father finds an extremely irresponsible misstep on her part, given his hope of her winning an Olympic medal for the country. But she has no regrets because Sultan is delirious with the news.
However, when the time of delivery approaches, Sultan has to travel abroad to win an international wrestling title while Aarfa wants him to stay back and not run blind after success. Sultan doesn’t listen, and when he returns after his win, he finds his newborn dead for want of the ‘O’ negative blood that Sultan could have provided, had he been around. So, indirectly, Sultan’s raging ambition takes the blame for the death of his newborn baby. Aarfa finds it hard to live with Sultan after her child’s death, and chooses to abandon him and go to her father’s house.
Surprisingly, Aarfa is the beloved wife of an Olympic gold medalist and has a sizeable number of people to take care of her, and Haryana itself has many good hospitals, even if the National Capital right next door is not accounted in; yet she was delivering her baby at a place where they could not arrange the blood of a certain blood type. Even if Sultan had to be elsewhere, he would leave instructions behind to ensure safety of his wife and unborn child, particularly when he was so delighted to be a father.
And Aarfa holds him responsible for the death of her baby without even blaming him for it in express terms. She does not even take refuge in that standard, staple dialogue in these circumstances that every time she looks at him, she is reminded of her dead baby and what led to his or her demise.
Sultan leaves the ring forever because Aarfa leaves him. So, Aarfa blames Sultan and Sultan blames wrestling for the death of their baby and the two of them sit apart letting their lives flow past them in wait of what miracle exactly? The Mixed Martial Arts tournament? We are given to believe that Sultan – the former desi pehalwan with a paunch – is the only hope for the revival of MMA league because he can haul the tractor out of the ditch effortlessly.
Sultan is then given a crash course in Mixed Martial Arts by coach Fateh Singh (Randeep Hooda), and in the course of a few short months, the ageing tractor-hauling Sultan is ready to take on the fast and mean MMA fighters half his age in the ring. He manages to bring his wrestling dominance to the ring and scales new heights in a different form of fighting. It’s a Salman Khan film and one is not allowed to suspect as to how exactly could a former, greying desi pehalwan, who has been out of the ring for long, go from fat to MMA-fit in a span of a couple of months straight, and go further on to defeat the young champions ‘like a boss’, as they say these days.
For the final adrenalin rush, the director gets Sultan down, injured and nearly incapacitated, and then has him rise from the ashes, so to speak, to fight back and emerge on top to win his wife back, in addition to the tournament, and then there is happily ever after with the blood bank, Aarfa’s wrestling days and a little daughter adding to the picture-perfect end. Salman
Khan fans rise, clap, giggle, and go home happy; the star twinkled in another film.