Sulthan’s potential to be a great masala film is undercut by trivial distractions that chip away at its premise
It’s impossible not to spot the mythological underpinnings in Sulthan. As Sulthan (Karthi) asks a cop, what if Lord Krishna had taken the side of the Kauravas? What if he had won them over and helped them reform, not through war, but through affection and advice? Much before you notice that his girlfriend in the film is named Rukmini (Rashmika), you realise who Sulthan is in this film, and who his 100 violent uncles are. He’s also likened to Abhimanyu at the beginning, as his mother (named Annalakshmi for a reason), pregnant with him, talks of wanting to reform all the murderous men in their family. There’s also the Mahabharata idea of Sulthan being forced by circumstances to fight his very own uncles. There are Ramayana references too, with Sulthan getting dubbed ‘nooru thalai Raavanan’. The corporate villain who calls him this, dubs himself an ‘oththa thalai Raavanan’, and says he can purchase as many heads as he wants for money.
Director: Bakkiyaraj Kannan
Cast: Karthi, Rashmika Mandanna, Napoleon, Lal, Yogi Babu
There’s also the constant suggestion that Sulthan is The One, with a Baahubali-esque scene in which the baby is held aloft by the uncles. Random strangers in a village, call for him to rescue them from killers who want to burn them all down and grab their land for the benefit of a greedy capitalist. Sulthan himself is constantly wrestling with notions about his identity. He has studied robotics and wants to return to the city, but does he want to leave home? Can he suppress his own violent instincts, nurtured so lovingly under the tutelage of his vicious uncles?
I quite enjoyed that the last scene you see before the interval has him looking quite confused, as he comes to grips with the gravity of what he has just done. These are fascinating portions in Sulthan. I also liked that the film speaks of reformation and rejects the notion that people are bad by nature and cannot be remedied. At the foundation of this film is the almost mythical relationship between Sulthan and his uncles, with there being half-hearted attempts to show these men of violence some empathetic understanding.
The same film that argues for their humanity, also keeps undercutting it by showing them as creatures driven by bloodlust. In one scene, they are all sleeping, but the mere whiff of a blood drop is enough to get them all aroused. Sulthan is also often shown whipping about his beloved uncles, like they were cattle to be shepherded. He’s also shown treating his bodyguard like a pet dog, and in one scene, even has the latter jumping into a river to recover a stone he flings into it, only so he can get some privacy.
For the remainder of this review (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), visit Sulthan Movie Review: Bad villains and forced messaging stifle a great premise, Karthi Rashmika- Cinema express