Eid films have now become synonymous with Salman Khan and that is perhaps why other Bollywood stars are worried about their films being released on the same day as his movies.
The superstar has scored his biggest successes on Eid in recent years, including record-breaking hits like 2015’s biggest blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijaan. He looks set to continue that trend with this year’s mega Eid release Sultan, which revolves around the fall and rise of a wrestler.
His character Sultan Ali Khan is a simple man whose life changes after he falls in love with a feisty girl, who also happens to be a wrestler.
“He’s a nobody and says to himself that if he’s gonna get married, it will only be to her, but then he is misunderstood. The film is about how Sultan goes down, then how he comes back up with the help of the woman he loves,” Salman explains.
“She is responsible for making him, then breaking him, and after that, because of her, he starts making it again. Everything comes into his beautiful love story, which may or may not be the end of this film,” he says.
Not surprisingly, this is one of the most physically demanding roles the current king of the Bollywood box office has done.
The 50-year-old admits that taking on these types of tough roles is getting more difficult for him now and that he sustained a number of serious injuries while making the film. This was partly due to the fact that he was fighting real wrestlers and largely did his own stunts in Sultan.
“When the director told me about this role I thought to myself, ‘I can do this’, but when the time came to do it, the director put all these giants in front of me. They were all professional fighters and real wrestlers who thought they were actually fighting in the ring, and with me,” says Salman, laughing.
The shooting of Sultan saw the actor train for two or three hours in the morning and again in the evening, along with shooting six to seven hours of physically demanding scenes including fights. Then the fight scenes had retakes, which the actor revealed took a heavy toll on his body.
“So most of the shots in this film, the wrestling and the mixed martial arts, are all real. There are no cables. There is a lot of contact happening in there. They were really throwing me and it was hurting. When I had to do the same to them, these guys were 120-130 kgs and they are not like our film fighters, who actually do the leap and then go down. They expect you to pick them up and throw them down. That was the most difficult part of it,” explains Salman.
Although the fight scenes and training took a heavy toll on the muscle-bound star’s body, another major challenge he faced was wearing the tiny shorts wrestlers traditionally fight in. When he was told about the clothing, the actor was confident about stripping down for the role because he has removed his shirt in countless films, but he admits it got very uncomfortable when the time came to shoot the scenes in front of more than 5,000 people.
“I now know what the heroines feel when they have to do all these swimsuit shots,” he says, laughing. “I said to the director, ‘there’s not a chance I will go out like this, I can’t do it – this is not possible.’ He said, ‘then we will release it next Eid.’ He said that date is also good, but then I said, ‘okay, I’ll do it, but if anyone shouts or screams at me I will come out there and beat them.’ When I was walking from my van to the shooting location, there were tears in my eyes. I was feeling violated.”
He jokes that even the women on the sets were making him feel uncomfortable when they looked at him in the tiny shorts and took photographs with their phones.
Another challenge Sultan offered up was learning the Haryana dialect, which Salman did by using a dialect coach. “I would copy them and I would practice, practice and practice. Anushka [Sharma] actually learned the language and speaks it really well.”
Although the film had plenty of challenges, Salman says he enjoyed the whole process and praised his team, including his fearless leading lady Anushka Sharma. He liked her work ethic and said she really embraced all the challenges, including learning how to wrestle and learning the dialect.
Another enjoyable part of Sultan for the actor was shooting at rustic locations. “There is nothing better than shooting at real locations. It looks real – it is not the same as shooting on a set. But it’s difficult nowadays to shoot on real locations because of the amount of security and crowd control that is required.”
Like most Salman Khan films, Sultan will have scenes that will make the audiences clap, cheer or whistle in cinemas, but he says that wasn’t the intention when making the big-budget film. He explains that the team gave it their best and hopes the whole film is appreciated.
The trailer for Sultan opens with the quote, ‘wrestling is not a sport. It’s about fighting what lies within.’ When Salman is asked what he was fighting within, he is taken aback, and after jokingly trying to avoid the question, he says: “I am fighting with myself all the time. I am constantly trying to up my standard by a little bit.
“That is the only thing that I keep doing. I do not look left, I do not look right, I just look straight ahead. I don’t have time to look behind. I just try and take small baby steps. Everything that I have done wrong or am doing wrong, I try to cut it down. Everything that I am doing well, which is on a lesser amount, I am trying to increase that level. That is all I am trying to do.”
Sultan will be in cinemas globally on July 6.