Bhai Plays To The Stalls, Film Companion

People have often told me about the sheer madness that ensues when Salman Khan fans gather at single screens to get their dose of Bhai every time his new movie is out. Rather than take their word for it, I chose to experience it myself this time around. And what I witnessed over the next three hours has changed me in many ways.

The single screen I chose on Thursday was Plaza Cinema, Dadar. About a five-minute walk away from Mumbai’s Dadar station, this famed theatre was also one of the targets during the ‘93 blasts. Before I could even step in line to collect the tickets that I’d booked online, I noticed a gathering of about ten people outside. On further inspection, I found that they were there to sell tickets in black. Could this be one of the reasons for the show being almost sold out online?

Bhai Plays To The Stalls, Film Companion

Due to the lack of buyers, tickets that were to be sold in black were selling at the retail price

Curious to know how much they were making on each ticket, I asked a woman in her 60s how much she was selling these tickets for. She replied, much to my astonishment, that they were being sold at their retail price. “Kaise itne 3rd class picture ke liye aata hain, pata nahi (I don’t know how people come to watch such a terrible film)”, she said, obviously frustrated at the lack of sales. “Baher tar ubha raha! (At least stand outside!)”, they were ordered by the watchman as he stood there, stick in hand.

Bhai Plays To The Stalls, Film Companion

Salman Khan ko hi dekhne aaye hain, said a man who had come to watch the film

In a theatre that was surprisingly only two-thirds full, I made my way to my seat only to overhear the man seated next to me express his amazement at how few people had turned up for this show. “Bajrangi Bhaijaan ke liye toh bahut public thi (There was a lot of crowd for Bajrangi Bhaijaan)”. I asked him what brought him there. “Salman Khan ko hi dekhne aate hain (We only come to watch Salman Khan)”, he told me as his chest swelled with pride.

As the lights dimmed, those empty seats soon began to fill up.

No sooner did the disclaimer pop up on screen than the cheering began. Hoots and whistles followed. The excitement in the room was palpable. It only multiplied as the introductory shots, some including mere silhouettes gave us the first glance of Sultan. Sultan (played by Bhai, obviously) then enters the ring only to take his opponents down one by one with sheer brute force. The audience bought into every bit of it immediately. They matched the volume of the speakers for every decibel. Such is the goliath that is Salman Khan.

Movie theatre etiquette doesn’t apply to single screens. And it sure doesn’t apply to single screens when a Salman Khan film is playing. Comments are passed freely and one is free to express oneself in any form be it dance or raucous cheering. Asking for someone to calm down or shushing someone could get you into a brawl, or worse.

At a typical multiplex, the cheaper seats sell out first. That wasn’t the case with Plaza Cinema. The true fans asked for executive tickets (the most expensive ones) with huge grins on their faces. And much to my surprise, they also made a lot more noise than the people sitting in the stalls. It was almost like a competition to see who loves Bhai the most.

Sultan is your run-of-the-mill sports film and director Ali Abbas Zafar employs all the usual tropes. You know right from the get-go that our hero Sultan is going to emerge victorious. Not unlike most mainstream movies, there are some very abrupt breaks to make way for songs. These songs feature Salman performing the catchiest of dance steps. Dance steps that will be replicated by his fans any chance they get – be it weddings, ganpati visarjans or holi rain-dances.

But I must admit that for those three hours, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It really was paisa vasool. There’s an astounding charisma to this man that is hard to resist, especially when you’re seated among some of his most loyal fans – Muslims who come out on Eid just to watch him beat up dozens of men single-handedly, fathers for whom his movies make the perfect family outing, young groups of friends who take it upon themselves to be the loudest ones in the theatre.

I consider myself a film buff. I am often accused of elitism when discussing films with friends because of the way in which I disregard most Bollywood films that I think are formulaic and too over-the-top for my taste. But while watching Sultan, I must admit, I gave in. This to me, was pure cathartic escapism. And so for once, without any shame or fear of being ostracised by my friends, I realised one thing. I may have just found my new guilty pleasure.

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