There’s virtual mayhem in the lobby of Delite cinema, one of the oldest single screens in Delhi’s Darya Ganj. On the day of Eid, Salman Khan’s fans are here to catch the first show of Sultan. Roughly, there is one woman for every 50 men here.
Doors to the screen will open in another 10 minutes. Three cops and the cinema staff are trying to shoo away what looks like an ocean of people. “When it is Salman’s film, they break the glass of the counter and the doors. Let us see what happens this year,” Satish, duty manager at the cinema, tells me. The buzzing sound “Dhai so, dhai sau, dhai sau... ek sau bees, ek sau bees, ek sau bees,” makes it difficult to listen to Satish or indeed hear anything else.
Delite is the neighbourhood cinema for majority of the residents of Old Delhi, which is predominantly inhabited by Muslims. After a month of fasting: abstaining from food during the day, and from recreation and entertainment, one wants to indulge one’s senses. If it’s Eid, it cannot be anything other than a film date with Bhai. A blockbuster carnival of senses only Salman Khan can pack.
This is also where a generation has grown up idolising Salman’s physique. More than a dozen gyms within a kilometre radius of Delite cinema bear testimony to this. For them, watching a Salman film is an annual meeting with their God.
If Old Delhi is a joint family, then Delite is its home theatre. Consider this: Irrespective of what seats are allotted to them, viewers sit on the seat of their convenience; if one person cannot locate his companions inside the hall, he shouts their names aloud; and they often break into impromptu dance.
Let us come back to Sultan.
When the door to the theatre is opened, the audience rushes inside the hall as if they have just broken their shackles. “Bring it on baby,” shouts one while settling down in his seat. Another enters singing “Baby ko bass pasand hai,” a song from Sultan.
The moment the screen lights up, there is a thunderous applause. This is when a commercial is being played. “People, why would you do this? At least let your hero appear,” I murmur.
Listen to a wrestler discussing Salman’s moves in Sultan:
Loud clapping reverberates in the theatre when Sultan, the name, is mentioned. The pitch goes higher when Salman aka Sultan makes an entry. And there is sheer euphoria every time Sultan defeats his opponents in a series of wrestling matches which forms one of the earliest sequences of the movie.
Four boys in the theatre are awestruck. They have missed the film by around three minutes and are watching Bhai’s moves standing by the door. “Abey chhod naa seat ko. Shot miss ho jayega (to hell with the seat. We will miss the shot),” one of them says.
Every gesture of Salman-anything that he has not done in his previous of films -- is like a celebration for the audience here. And the film is a sum total of these celebrations. Loud whistles echo in the theatre when Salman is seen riding a scooter, speaking with Haryanvi accent, and taking a tractor out of a ditch.
“Bhabhi”, is what Salman fans in Purani Dilli shout in chorus every time the heroine in a Salman film makes her entry, approving of Bhai’s relationship with her. Anushka Sharma, playing a wrestler and Salman’s love interest in Sultan, is treated the same way.
Two men who enter the theatre almost 40 minutes into the film are seen as an annoyance. They are made fun of. “I have tickets for the next two shows as well. Relax,” one of them declares.
Salman plays a mix martial arts wrestler in the second half of the film. The sound ‘Sultan, Sultan’ both on screen and inside the theatre is not for the faint hearted.
At the end, I could hear the man sitting next to me sobbing. I asked him if he was all right. “Yes, I got a bit emotional,” he said. On discovering that I was a journalist, he said, “You people have created a monster out of him. Look at him. You think he can do what all you people say he has done?”