Wrestling, love and life – Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma on Sultan
Sultan will see Salman Khan play an athlete for the very first time. From rigorous training to transforming his body type every 20 days, this film has undoubtedly been one of the hardest things that the superstar has done. Paired opposite him is Anushka Sharma who also plays a wrestler in the film, a far contrast from her roles in her previous films like Dil Dhadakne Do and Bombay Velvet. Aarfa (Her character), according to Salman, is the one who breaks and makes Sultan.
Prior to the release of the much awaited film, Pandolin quizzed the duo about the physical and mental prep for their roles and the relationship between Sultan and Aarfa.
What is Sultan, as a story, all about?
This is a story of an underdog; about a guy who doesn’t want to do anything. But he falls in love, takes a hit and understands that he needs to prove himself. It’s his journey, from his downfall to his rise, where there is nobody in his life, but he gets up again and earns everyone’s respect.
You are a fitness icon, but playing a wrestler is a whole new ball game. What was the kind of physical training you underwent for the character of Sultan?
The training was very difficult. One needs to have stamina and leg power for such training. And till you don’t train at the level of a wrestler, you won’t be able to carry out the character. I had to learn to fight in the mud ring, then moved to the mat and then to MMA which involves punching, kicking and all the mixed martial arts. I had to learn all the three things because you would look like a fraud if you are not trained properly. So you need to put in those many hours as a wrestler would do and that’s what we did. For the shoot I had to pick up a 120 kg person almost ten times, which in wrestling would happen just once or twice. But we had to shoot it from five different angles. This went on for 6-7 hours and in those hours either I was picking up and throwing someone, or someone was picking me up and throwing me down. That for me was the most difficult thing. Moreover, four different body types were required of me every 20 days, throughout the film. That is because I’m playing the young part, then the old part and the unfit part followed by the fit part. Sultan is the most difficult thing that I have done till date.
Till you don’t train at the level of a wrestler, you won’t be able to carry out the character
How did you understand and adopt the technical aspects of wrestling?
When you watch wrestling several times on television or even in real life, you will start recognizing the moves of the fight. But when you go to actually do it, it is very difficult because the opponent is putting in equal efforts. That technique and style comes to you with training. It is all about your style, your approach to the fight and it is ultimately your personality that goes into that ring. In wrestling, contact plays a huge part. When you pick up a stunt man, he will jump and help you with the scene, but we had an actual fighter who did not understand this concept. For them wrestling is all about contact. I would keep asking each and every wrestler on set, if whatever I was doing looked genuine because in the film, I am fighting in the world championship and then the Olympics. So I had to look like a wrestler otherwise there was no point at all. And all these fighters that I fought with thought that I was a wrestler.
You’ve played varied roles in your recent films. Having done almost every kind of role, what do you look for in a film or role before agreeing to it?
Everything depends on the first narration, if I like it, I do it or I won’t do it at all. Earlier that wasn’t the case, at that time the notion was that it can work. But now only the first narration and the first script works and no amount of convincing can change my mind. Till the time I am not convinced that this is an outstanding film, a film that I want to work in, where I feel like going to shoot and don’t feel like leaving the set. Till I don’t feel that, I don’t sign a film.
When you pick up a stunt man, he will jump and help you with the scene, but we had an actual fighter who did not understand this concept
Playing a wrestler must have been taxing. Tell us about the experience and your preparation for the role.
There were three things that I had to do while I was preparing for the film and moreover, I had less than six weeks to prepare. I was afraid because people, and even I myself, had a certain mindset regarding how a wrestler looks. There is a common perception that wrestlers are big-built and I don’t look anything like that. Therefore, I thought that I am working with a disadvantage. But when I researched, I realized that there are different wrestlers in different weight categories. I saw some international wrestlers and girls who were like me, tall and toned. That’s when I understood that this is the right way to go. The first thing was to look the part; the second thing was doing the wrestling.
The difficult thing was that all of us have a sense of personal space and I had to train with boys. I used to find it bizarre that I had to be so close to somebody, but I had to overcome that awkwardness. Once I overcame that I was able to learn properly.
The third thing was getting the Haryanvi accent. I used translate my dialogues phonetically in Hindi and write them down, so that it was easier for me to learn. I had a diction coach and a lot of work went into that. It become a little overwhelming for me because I had very little time to prepare, but I still had to do it right and though it was taxing, I am glad I did it.
How would you describe the relationship between Sultan and Aarfa?
Aarfa’s dream is to win a gold medal in Olympics; she is very focused on her goals and doesn’t see anything else. But she is the reason why Sultan becomes a wrestler. It is a very interesting relationship that the two of them share. I think it is a very simple relationship, but a relationship that is grounded in reality.
I used to find it bizarre that I had to be so close to somebody, but I had to overcome that awkwardness
Tell us about Salman Khan as a co-star.
With him what you see is what you get. He won’t really go out of the way to make you feel comfortable. You do get a little intimidated by him, but he is like that with everybody. I think that is the best thing about him, he treats everyone in the same manner. With someone like this, you don’t have to read too much in between the lines and I think that is a very good quality he has.
Being a producer, how is your approach to a script or story different from an actor’s perspective versus producer’s perspective?
Firstly, as an actor or a producer you will see whether the movie is going to do well or not, if it is saying something that you want to back or not. Both ways you are creating something, but as a producer there is a lot more that goes into it because you are taking decisions at every stage. As a producer you have to identify the potential in things, because nothing will come perfect to you, it may come with some scope and then you develop it further. As an actor I cannot develop the script, but as a producer I can do that.