Why Sultan broke the Box Office

Khadija Mughal explains the Salman Khan formula for a hit

Why Sultan broke the Box Office
It was released just over two weeks ago and it has already made over INR 500 crore, taking it to number 5 in the table of all-time grossers in Bollywood. Cinema houses, even in Pakistan, were booked for the five days immediately after its release on July 06. Yes, releasing it on Eid is one of the reasons why the film racked up millions so quickly, but that’s not it. Let’s look at the other reasons due to which Sultan is making money at lightning speed.

Salman Khan

The reasons for the film’s success aren’t necessarily listed in descending order, so this is by no means the biggest reason for the film’s success, but the presence of Salman Khan, on the big screen - abs and all - sending 200 pound-plus men flying: that’s a recipe for success in its entirety, let alone in part. The actor may be above 50 years old, but he still has got the x-factor: that undefinable force of attraction that sends boys and girls (possibly even men and women - how can one possibly tell?) hooting at the top of their lungs and filling packed cinema houses with a fairly unsettling amount of noise. He may be aging, but Salman Khan has still got what it takes to make a movie a hit - and it isn’t acting. Having said that, Sultan is undoubtedly one of Salman’s best acting performances ever, as he comes really close to nailing every aspect of his character, Sultan Ali Khan: even the Haryanvi accent (though he, or Anushka Sharma, still don’t manage to do as good a job as Kangana Ranaut).

It helped Salman immensely that his character was a wrestler and a simpleton, and his years of bodybuilding and wearing his heart on his sleeve definitely eased the part for him. However, what didn’t help was the fact that his character also had to sport a pot belly and be completely full of himself at separate points in the film. While troubles with the media and loudmouthedness are things Salman Khan the man is a little too familiar with, yet obesity must have been unfamiliar territory for an actor who has frequently been admired for his fitness. And, then, of course, came the toughest part: getting back into shape. Physical transformation - for which the actor had to go through a torturous workout routine (which followed his infamous rape comment) - is an effort Mr. Khan has barely ever made in his career before, showing an unprecedented commitment to role play which is commendable.
He may be aging, but Salman Khan has still got what it takes to make a movie a hit - and it isn't acting

The Action

Throw a Khan or a Kumar (alright, only Akshay Kumar) into a mix of heavy action and slap it onto the big screen and you have a certain instant hit, as well as the surety of reaping many times over the amount of money you have invested into a film. Producer Aditya Chopra - who has previously produced the Dhoom trilogy, Dil To Pagal Hai, Bunty Aur Bubli, Veer-Zaara, Fanaa, Ek Tha Tiger and Chak De India, and has also directed DDLJ and Mohabbatein - does exactly that, and reaps all the benefits. Being primarily a sports drama film, Sultan has plenty of adrenaline-pumping and energising sports action, both in its rugged form of desi kushti (wrestling) as well as its more modern and fashionable form, mixed martial arts. However, the success of the film lies in the fact that it is not entirely what is known as a “guy flick”.

Anushka Sharma depicts an intrepid female fighter in love
Anushka Sharma depicts an intrepid female fighter in love


So while Sultan is the story of the sportsman who marries a sportswoman and lives happily with her until tragedy strikes, yet it still has a strong element of romance that most sports movies lack. Sultan is nearly as much the story of the love between Arfa (Anushka Sharma) and Sultan, as it is the story of a fallen hero’s comeback in the wrestling ring - which is precisely what makes it so well-rounded. The film does not make the usual mistake that most sports films make: that of reducing the lives of sportsmen to sports alone. Instead, it tells a more complete story, filled with action, sports, drama and romance, giving everybody something to watch – and, on the way, selling many times more tickets than its one dimensional counterparts.

The Team

Last but not the least, the success of Sultan lies in the efforts of its entire production team, starting with the producer, director, screenplay writer, actors, music production team, the choreographers, cinematographers – everybody. Each member of the Sultan team puts in a very professional performance, which reflects their hard work, leading every element of the film to contribute to the success of the end product.

It begins with the producer and screenwriter, Aditya Chopra. Chopra – the son of one of the most successful producers of Indian cinema, Yash Chopra – has had a very successful directorial, production and screenwriting career which has landed him a Filmfare Award. And his experience on all three major fronts of filmmaking shows clearly throughout Sultan, especially in the film’s screenplay. Sultan not only has a very elaborate, drama-laden story – thanks to Ali Abbas Zafar – its script, too, is both funny and pleasingly simple by turns, giving it the touch and laid back feel of a traditional, small village of Haryana which was important for its success. Furthermore, the film’s traditional Bollywood length – 2 hours and 50 minutes – allows for the room that the filmmakers require to pack all of the rollercoaster drama, romance, and action into. Ali Abbas Zafar’s directorial skills add further crispness to the film, managing to draw out the best from both the leads as well as the supporting cast.
Sultan avoids the mistake that most sports films make: that of reducing the lives of sportsmen to sports alone

This brings us to the last, perhaps most important part of any film: the acting. Other than Salman Khan, leading lady Anushka Sharma also puts in a strong performance as a female wrestler, an independent woman and a girl in love, representing both feminism and conventionalism by turns. Both the leads manage to entertain and charm in the film’s songs too, helped immensely by the star musical cast of Vishal Dadlani, Shalmali Kholgade, Badshah and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan among others, with the music produced by the successful duo of Vishal-Shekhar. The film’s music has been a success, but was not really suited to this reviewer’s taste, nevertheless, it has certainly contributed its share to the big bucks made by the movie at the box office.

Even though the screen was largely dominated by the leading duo, yet let us not forget the important role of the supporting actors in giving the film their crucial shares. Anant Vidhaat who portrayed the character of Sultan’s friend Govind to its comic perfection, Amit Sadh who was convincing as the urbanised founder of Pro Takedown and, most importantly, Randeep Hooda, deserve a special mention. Hooda’s role as Fateh Singh, the martial artist and Sultan’s coach, was a guest appearance, but it was one of the strongest I have ever seen. The actor filled all the nooks of his troubled character, complete with the dark, pessimistic persona and the wiry frame which he has clearly worked hard to achieve. The addition of pro wrestler Tyron Woodley and martial artist Marko Zaror was also extremely important in its own place because it took the sports action of the film up a strong notch and also made the mixed martial arts competition, Pro Takedown, much, much more convincing than it would have been without them.

Salman Khan packed on the desi brawn for his latest hit
Salman Khan packed on the desi brawn for his latest hit

So why, in a word, did Sultan do so well at the box office? I would say: hard work. From the leading actors, to the supporting actors, to the director, screenwriters and producer, everybody’s hard work and dedication shows. Sure, the direction might not have been flawless and Anushka Sharma’s Haryanvi accent might have slipped here and there, and sure the story was not very creative and daring, but there is no shadow of a doubt that the entire team of Sultan made a strong collective effort to make it a success - not one lead actor, not one sidekick, not one actress riding on the success of an item song, but all of the team together, in cohesion. And that, ladies and gents, is what made Sultan such a huge success.

Khadija Mughal lives in Karachi