I am not a big fan of Salman Khan's films because the lead character has set mannerisms which identify him as Salman Khan first and the protagonist after; i.e.; very Salman Khan-y (Shah Rukh has the same problem). So I wasn't exactly rushing to the theater the moment Sultan released. But post-watch I have to say that it was an enjoyable watch, a little stretched out, milking-it-for-all-its-worth watch, but entertaining anyway.
Khan in this film is the titular character - Sultan Ali Khan, a small-town good-natured idle do-nothing who's spent his father's savings in setting up a TV cable business which he's not too serious about. When he falls in love with ambitious wrestler Aarfa (Sharma), she challenges him to be goal-oriented, rather than the aimless busybody he is. Apparently the country bumpkin can focus because Sultan soon morphs into a medal-winning pehlwaan. Then, it all comes crashing down. Now Sultan is offered one last chance at redemption. Will he make good?
Sultan exploits 2 tropes very successfully: the underdog trope, and the country-bumpkin-with-a-heart-of-gold one. And we lap it up. Probably because it is done so well and with some very good actors. The magnificent Kumud Mishra plays Aarfa's dad, wrestling trainer Barkat. Amit Sadh, whom you saw in Kai Po Che, is the big city magnate who offers Sultan his big chance, and here delivers a nice, nuanced performance. Hooda appears in a small role as Mixed Martial Arts trainer Fateh Singh and does a marvelous job. But the big revelation here is Anant Vidhaat as Sultan's friend Govind. He was in Mardaani and Gunday too, but here he really comes into his own.
And of course the lead characters have to carry their weight. Anushka is always very good. I really liked Salman in this role - he appears strong yet fallible, and an all-around nice guy. Also mad props to him; it takes courage to appear in that little langot :-). The only problematic thing here was the Haryanvi accent, which wasn't very believable and dropped sometimes.
Sultan has earnestness and a gentleness of spirit which comes as a surprise given that its director is Ali Abbas Zafar, the director of Gunday, a film best left unseen. Sultan has got to be a humongous feather in his cap. We all want to believe that the world is one big happy place, and this film brings that illusion almost believable. Sultan succeeds because even though it is predictable (like an Indian Rocky) and we know the end, we are willing to go the journey.