As Sultan marches ahead its director Ali Abbas Zafar has stopped counting. “The pressure, will it touch Rs. 300 crores….will it cross Rs. 300?… is mounting. It’s getting to me. I know Sultan gives me certain standing as a filmmaker. I also know what a great man said about success, that with power comes responsibility,” says Ali humbly.
Ali is tormented by the expectations of the audience. “I’ll be expected to deliver an even bigger film afterSultan. I don’t want to think about this. I am just happy that the film has connected with the audience. And when a real-life wrestler like Sangram Singh says Salman looks authentic doing the wrestling moves, I feel we’ve achieved what we set out to do.”
Suddenly the game of kushti is talking-point in the national recreational realm.
Says Ali, “When people say Sultan will do to wrestling what Chak De did to hockey I feel elated. It takes a star like Salman or Shah Rukh to get audiences into the theatre to watch a film about a game that isn’t cricket or football.”
Ali feels Sultan connects with equal vigour with audiences in both the non-urban and urban centres. “There is that mitti ki khushboo in the presentation. And audiences have sensed it. It’s embedded in the game of wrestling. If I had made a film about, say, fencing or boxing, I don’t think it would have had the same impact. Every Indian identifies with wrestling. Kushti is a sport we all know.”
Getting Salman Khan into a langoti and the wrestler’s akhada wasn’t easy. “When I look back I wonder how we did it. But now when I see the appreciation the film is getting it all seems worth it,” the director says a silent prayer.
Ali has a lot more friends now. “My parents are totally impervious to Mumbai’s film world. But when people stop on the street in my hometown Dehradun to tell them their son has done them proud, they feel good. When my parents feel good I feel happy. Suddenly there are so many people claiming to know me. I feel my life and career have begun now.”