Just as water tastes ultra-delicious to someone deprived of it for long, when the tongue and soul are parched to the extreme, Sultan quenches the long-overdue thirst for the quintessential, big mainstream movie we can call the ‘Classic Hindi Film’. And, rightly enough, people cannot have enough of it – worldwide – with every one of them echoing and reflecting what this writer feels: give us a few Sultan – like biggies every year, and no Hollywood film can dare match us over here.
It revives our confidence that not even a big Hollywood film will dare release alongside, or just before or after Sultan! But Sultan has taken them on globally!
Ali Abbas Zafar, writer-director of the film, told us that he preferred the clear-headed films of the ’70s and ’80s because today’s films are quite confused, as are its makers. I could not agree more. Let us analyze his statement.
Look at the megahits we have given from 2015 to 2016 alone: we have got the classic Hindi film (I will explain this much-maligned but glorious term in time) in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Tanu Weds Manu Returns and now Sultan.
To a lesser extent, we would include Piku (with its Hrishikesh Mukherjee-like tenor with big stars as definite characters), Bajirao Mastani (with its grandeur and the hardcore Indianness of the script and the rich music), Airlift (where the patriotic emotions and use of music and a star enhanced the realistic content), Neerja (in the way this real story was dramatized and treated) and of course Baaghi, that little film that scored so high because it did all the right things on its own modest scale. That is all! 19 months, and less than ten good Classic Hindi Films.
So now, let us try and understand what the Classic Hindi Film means. To most, it is about song-and-dance, the classic Hindi film’s international image and interpretation.
Broadly, we would agree, but with the strict clause of ‘Conditions Apply’! The Classic Hindi Film also has (as per the needs of the story) bankable stars to pull in the audiences (now even more important when the cost of watching a film is prohibitive!), a nice dose of action and a good humour quotient. That makes for the Entertainment Quotient.
The next is the vital Emotional Quotient – that bulwark of Indian cinema that can never, ever, be junked. That is what makes a Dabangg and the Dhoom franchise super-hits while the Rocky Handsome‘s and their ilk fail. The emotions can be personal, romantic, for the family, for the country and for any great issue or values. This quotient has to be strong.
Analytically, we have the Intelligence Quotient also – emphatically the least important of the three. This is Hindi Cinema¸ whose raison d’etre for existence is having a ball with family and friends. When we wish to de-stress and enjoy and get our money’s worth, we do not mind this IQ hopping on to the e-bandwagon, to coin a term. But it is certainly not compulsory. We are not into cinema as an academic exercise where art and technique and all higher things should flourish at the expense of the audience, which then feels deprived of a good time. A mix of movies that are mindless and intelligent fare would ideally be perfect!
Therefore, classic Hindi cinema essentially means skilled storytelling in a definite, universally-appealing format. And the story need not necessarily be great, new or path-breaking, though serious, offbeat subjects and vital social messages are fine if well-packaged. Just as sugar, salt or spice can be dispensed with when not needed in certain delicacies, individual elements like action, comedy, great music or dances could be skipped as needed without corrupting the essence of the Classic Hindi Film.
Variety is really the key – but value for money is compulsory.
In fact, most of the biggest blockbusters down the decades have been cases of old wine in super-innovative new bottles. So is Sultan. Ali categorically states that his film is full of clichés. He added wisely that all underdog stories have to be similar. It is the details that work or do not. Sultan too sticks to its story but incorporates almost all elements that are needed or can be worked in without disturbing the flow, sucking you into a real world that is paradoxically larger-than-life!
So the big, bold secret is – conviction, not confusion!
And so, when I went to watch Sultan, I did so with the expectation, generated from the trailer (that gave away most of the story, like trailers of pre-millennium Hindi movies always did!) that it will be a proper Hindi film. I thus knew its beginning, I knew that there was a crisis created by Sultan’s success going to his head, and I knew there would be a (happy and gratifying) resolution.
I thus knew that the journey looked completely enjoyable, but that the filling in of the blanks would actually make the vital difference between loving the film and hating it!
And it did! The crisis was powerful enough to shatter a formidable character like Sultan as it was so personal. There was sufficient justification for his relationship with his beloved to break. There was the powerful and eternal message of pride coming inexorably before a fall, and that for this wrestler – and by implication every human being – the real fight was not in the ring (at work) but with the demons within. What’s more, the conclusion and its sharp nuances were convincing too.
Add the incredible magnetism of the biggest hero of them all – Salman Khan – and it would have taken an exceptionally stupid or arrogant (generally these qualities run together!) filmmaker to botch things up.
Happily, however, when I repeat Sultan in the theatres (as all Classic Hindi Films need to be!), I shall thank Ali for quenching my craving for the Hindi film I have grown to love for decades. All that I wish to add as a tribute to such classic Hindi Cinema is Irshad-bhai‘s unforgettable line from this film – ‘Jaisi tu hai waisi rehna – Jag ghoomeya thaare jaisa no koi (Remain what you have always been, for there is nothing like you in the world).’
Long live the Hindi film.