The excitement was palpable. The crowds had started to gather a good 30 minutes before the showtime of 3 pm and jostled in front of the posters for Sultan, posing and scowling for group pictures and selfies.
When the gates opened, there was whistling and clapping. Security guards had to coax the crowds through the metal detectors now mandatory even at single-screens like this iconic one -- Maratha Mandir, in Mumbai Central.
Advance bookings for Salman Khan’s Eid release opened here on Monday. By Wednesday all three daily shows were sold out for the whole week. The first ones to go, of course, were the Thursday tickets.
“Many people bought 10 to 20 tickets online to enjoy the movie on Eid with their entire families,” said Manoj Pande, manager of Maratha Mandir. “Since Salman Khan’s first Eid release, Wanted, in 2009, his movies are like Eidi to Muslims.”
The Niyazi family, for instance, came together from Malad, Dongri and as far off as Pune to watch their favourite superstar wrestle it out. “My two-year-old daughter, 75-year-old grandmother, brothers, sisters, their spouses and children are all here to celebrate Eid with Salman,” said homemaker Rima Niyazi, 30.
“I don’t usually watch movies, but don’t miss any of Salman’s films. He is my favourite,” added Amina, 75, Rima’s grandmother, who came from Dongri.
“Children and grown-ups all love Salman, so watching his movies is a great family activity. They also make for good dinner-time conversation,” said Aman, 23, Rima’s brother, an engineer who came down from Pune.
Many of the fans were dressed in their Eid finery and their mood of jubilation carried through the three-hour film.
When Sultan cracked a joke, a little boy, overcome, yelled “Sultaaaaan”. When he romanced Anushka Sharma, a young girl in the audience blushed. When he kicked, young men punched in the air, and when he danced to ‘Baby ko bass pasand hai’, people in the stalls broke into a jig.
But nothing beat Salman Khan’s entry. The claps, cheers and whistles refused to die down. Who cares about the other characters and their opening lines anyway?
The most vulnerable moment, both for Salman and his audience, came when Bhai lay battered, unable to stand. Mutterings of “Hey Bhagwan” and “Ya Allah, ab kya?” rippled through the audience.
After a long, deafening silence, Sultan finally opened his eyes, and even the stern-looking elderly man in our row cracked a smile against the background of ear-splitting cheers. The audience now broke into a rhythmic chant taken from the movie’s background score -- ‘Upar Allah niche dharti, beech main tera gurur. Aye Sultan (Allah above, Earth below, in between is your ego and strength. Oh Sultan!).’
After the predictable victory, they filed out awash in smiles. “It’s a super-duper hit,” said Tausif Sheikh, 16, a school student from Chembur. He and 10 friends had saved up their pocket money all week to buy the 90-rupee ticket. “We watch every Salman Khan movie and always see the Eid release on Eid. Our families will be watching the movie, but tomorrow,” Tausif said.
His friend Pervez had arrived at the theatre an hour early, dressed in an embroidered white sherwani. “I love Salman’s body, his attitude, dialogue, everything about him,” he said. “I have learnt all the dance steps of ‘Baby ko bass pasand hai’ and will dance my heart out in the Eid party organised in the building tonight. Salman bhai makes our Eid special.”
There was even a Delhi businessman in the audience. “I had to travel to Mumbai for work, so I though the best way to cheer myself up was to watch a Salman Khan movie,” said Shahid Shamsi. “That will be my celebration this year.”
Despite a garlanded House Full sign, there were also some hopefuls hanging around in case someone failed to turn up and their ticket was up for grabs.
“I have been waiting for three hours,” said MD Anjaar, 18, a college student from Byculla. “I think I will have to go home now.”
But he will return, just as his favourite superstar always does.
“I’ll bunk college and watch Sultan on Monday,” he said, with a grin.