Nope, you can't touch this. Salman Khan's superstardom is beyond the precincts of rationale or logic. To his credit, he is now finally surrendering to his characters.
After last year's Eid's heartwarming Bajrangi Bhaijaan act, this festive season Salman pushes himself physically and emotionally to a new level of commitment in Sultan.
Playing the good hearted solidly dependable Haryanvi wrestler Salman brings a kind of feisty vulnerability along with a spiritual certainty to his instantly likeable character.
He is no longer interested in being Salman Khan on screen. The physical and emotional transformation is so palpable and authentic as to remind us of what Robert de Niro achieved in and outside the boxing ring in Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull.
Salman's accent is pitch-perfect. And that's where the performance begins. While the actor takes himself dead seriously, the film is remarkably light-hearted and free-spirited even though the underlying message - sometimes to be a true hero you've got to fall hard on the ground before you pick yourself up again - is never squandered in the outward frivolity that grips the narrative as, for long stretches, Salman plays the super-smitten lover-boy who can't get enough of Aarfa (Anushka Sharma).
Though their scenes of courtship and romance are unnecessarily stretched out and over cute, the pair works largely because Anushka is the first Salman co-star who doesn't seem overwhelmed by his presence. Yup, she gives him tit for tat with such nifty nonchalance that we are soon rooting for them as a couple.
This is a funny engaging and satisfying film brimming with many moments of joie de vivre. The wrestling sequences, done with a choreographic candour, are outstanding. Salman slams his opponents with such intensity that you wonder if the ricocheting ruckus in the wrestling ring is a metaphor for what this film is sure to do at the box office.
All said and done, Sultan is a love story first, then a sports film. Director Ali Abbas Zafar doesn't distil the drama with interpolations. Though lengthy, the characters never lose their plot. They are written into a tightly edited pastiche of pain and pleasure unleashed with honesty and charm.
The film is shot by Artur Zurawski with the stress on capturing the glory and grandeur of the sport only in the context of the protagonist's emotions. Nothing in Sultan stands out. It all blends in and merges into the very impressive larger picture.
Staggeringly engaging, remarkably rugged and unexpectedly romantic, Sultan is every bit the comprehensive blockbuster it promised to be. Watching the accomplished storytelling and the deft characterisations in Sultan, it is hard to believe that this work comes from the director of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Gunday. Quite a dizzying climb!
Film: Sultan; Director: Ali Abbas Zafar; Cast: Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma; Rating: ****