When Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was appointed as India’s brand ambassador for the upcoming Rio Olympics, a section of the society cried foul. Why were we always bent on taking Bollywood stars to promote each and every thing? Shouldn’t sports persons promote the Olympics?
But there’s another line of thinking. It is only Bollywood and cricket stars in India who can get the required publicity to promote anything and get people’s attention. At the end of the day it’s all about marketing, publicity and branding, isn’t it? That way Salman is on a high and is going through an amazing box office run in the 2010s.
Coincidentally, a perfect alignment seemed to be taking place. Sultan released on July 6. It is the story of a wrestler who fights his way to a gold medal at the Olympics and even the heroine (Anushka Sharma) happens to be a wrestler. We live in an era of cross-branding and the Sultan-Rio combo seems to be a perfect fit.
That’s what everyone thought till the film was released and the plot was revealed.
It all goes awry when you realize that story of Sultan is as far away from the reality of Olympics as possible. It is in fact an insult to the very idea of the Olympics.
Let me explain.
Winning an Olympic gold medal is no mean feat. Talk to most winners and they will tell you that it’s one lifelong process of slogging and sacrifices. For example Nadia Comăneci started gymnastics in kindergarten itself and could do cartwheels before joining her eventual Olympics coach Béla Károlyi’s school at the tender age of 6.
It was this kind of dedication that made her the first person to get a perfect 10 in gymnastics at the Olympics. (Doordarshan viewers in the 1980s still remember her story fondly in the TV serialization)
That way Anushka Sharma’s character Aarfa is much closer to reality in Sultan. She has been training all her life for an Olympic Gold and she is single-minded in that. It makes her a potential champ. And guess what? She doesn’t win an Olympic medal. Hell, she doesn’t even participate in the Olympics.
Why? Because she gets pregnant and that’s her fault and that becomes her Olympic medal in the end! How patriarchal and regressive!
Here’s a case of fiction being totally non-creative, non-imaginative and not even matching up to reality. Haven’t they heard of a person called Mary Kom? This gutsy woman boxer had twins in 2007 and another child in 2013. In between all that her career flourished.
She won world championships in the years before and after her first delivery! Nowadays women can have it all and Bollywood is still stuck in its patriarchal misogynist mind set. I had written about this in 5 ways Bollywood promotes misogyny.
Then what of Sultan? He’s not even an athlete and he’s in his thirties. And yet he can train for a few months and become a world-class wrestler and win an Olympic gold! On its own, it would be just another unrealistic Bollywood hero achieving the impossible. But put against the case of Aarfa in the movie, it is a huge insult to both women and professional athletes.
It’s not as if Aarfa gets a chance of a comeback in the movie. Even that is reserved for Sultan who makes it big in a mixed martial arts tournament. It’s all about Salman, Salman and more Salman, you see!
Who cares about the Olympic spirit and the dreams of women? That dream is left to the viewer and not within the scope of the movie. In the end Sultan is training his daughter to be a wrestler.
Maybe if they made a sequel to Sultan where the daughter actually participates in the Olympics and wins a medal, it would be something.
But coming back to the present and coming back to Sultan.
Aarfa is an authentic realistic Olympic character whose dreams are crushed.
Sultan is an authentic Bollywood unrealistic masala character whose dreams are realized.
What greater tragedy can there be then this that the former is rubbished and the latter celebrated?
Whether Salman is a good brand ambassador for an Olympics is moot.
But there is no doubt that Sultan is the worst possible brand ambassador for the Olympics.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here