There are some films that are technically very sound but are unable to move us, and then there are some films that seem to be meandering a bit, and yet there is something about them that inspires us. Sattar: The Return of the Legendary Slap is a film from Saudi Arabia that belongs to the latter category. The name of the film may suggest that this is a sequel, but you would be mistaken. The ‘slap’ does return in this film, though, and it does so in quite a ‘legendary’ fashion. There is something very unique about Sattar. Directed by Abdullah Al-Arak, Sattar is like a weird origin story of a superhero; somehow, the characters in this movie seem like they are part of a superhero universe. Then there is the aspect of the slapstick comedy that also works quite well, given the nature of the story.
The story is about a man named Saad, played adorably by Ibrahim Al-Ajjaj. His story begins right from his childhood, when he, an orphan, lived with his grandfather. His grandfather was obsessed with entertainment wrestling, and he raised the young Saad in his own way. So, Saad, too, grew up completely consumed by the world of wrestling. As he was growing up, he was bullied by his classmates and ridiculed by the teachers for having the dream of becoming a wrestler in the entertainment wrestling world. As the world around the young Saad drilled into his head the reality of the kind of wrestling he was interested in, his obsession turned into a disgust for the’sport.’ Saad began to curse the day his grandfather introduced him to entertainment wrestling. Poor Saad could only ask him his intention as to why he inclined him towards something that was ‘fake. Why couldn’t he teach him something real?
What’s real, anyway? Is our love for something that creates just the illusion of reality but grips us not real enough for this world? Saad never really grew up. He took up a ‘normal’ job in an insurance office, but there were these dreams in his eyes: to be part of the wrestling world. Of course, that wrestling was the kind that his grandfather had shown him. But he was to be a responsible man now and give up these fantasies, for he was about to get married. Soon, his life changed when he mustered the courage to enter a wrestling competition just to give it a shot.
So, this is how the story was set up. Later, characters are introduced that take the story forward. The tone of the movie would have determined if this setup had any chance to tell a well-rounded story. There are ‘boxing’ films that always have a nice first act, but they are generally dramas. Sattar is a little unique as it’s a comedy. Think about the narrative freedom of movies like Clerks or Kickass, which just do not abide by conventional plot points. There is an absurdity to this movie, and its execution is great. The characters have traits that are, in a way, not intended to represent reality, and yet using phrases like ‘over the top’ will miss the point entirely. When Saad gets hit by a truck, he rises quickly, as if there wasn’t any harm done. This happened after his video of getting beat up at the wrestling competition went viral, and he got to be known as ‘Punching Bag.’ All this was seen by Ali Hogain, who worked for Doberman and ran an underground freestyle wrestling racquet. Ali showed Saad the road map to becoming famous on the wrestling circuit, and it was here that Saad got his wrestling name, Sattar.
This was the second act, and this is where the meandering Clerk-like quality was the most apparent. Long, unbroken sequences explaining the freestyle wrestling world took a little gas out of the film. But they also helped in stabilizing the film to some extent, as it started with the energy of a helium balloon, having left the hands unknotted. I think if there was any way to have the second act have more stakes and a real tautness to it, then the film would have lost its heart. It was as if the makers were like, ‘Ok, we’ve shown you a real film up until now, and now that you are here, let’s have some fun’. You have to have the heart of a kid to enjoy these particular sequences, where Saad fights the wrestlers and crosses the hurdles in freestyle wrestling. It’s a children’s movie as well, but the metaphors are peppered throughout the narrative for adults to see themselves in the story. How often has life punched you in the face, and others have done nothing but laugh at your misery?
There is so much stress in Saad’s life. He doesn’t get his bonus for the wedding. His soon-to-be mother-in-law talks down to him because he doesn’t earn enough. If she ever came to know about this wrestling stint he had, she was going to take her beloved Felowah away. And most importantly, she wanted him to get a German kitchen in the new house where Saad and Felowah were to live. Saad had already been promised by his friend that he would gift him an entire kitchen for his wedding. The angle here that could have been explored would have been related to his irresponsible, or rather carefree, nature had Saad not become responsible by giving up on his dreams and joining that boring office job. Once, he was caught playing with a kid’s action figures, showing him the thrill of wrestling. It’s good that his plunge into his dreams was immediately depicted.
The concept of a scenario is the crux of entertainment wrestling. They are scripted. The moves are practiced, and the winners are predetermined. This represented Saad’s fantasy world, where he was protected and in control. He wasn’t actually going to be hit. Each time he went into wrestling, he requested that the opponent follow his scenario and make him look good, but he ended up getting punched. His entry into freestyle wrestling was a shock, but it was here that he learned the technique of the invincible ‘legendary slap.’ If that isn’t a transformational story, I don’t know what is. Sattar, hence, becomes a tale of leaving the controlled environment, also known in pop culture as ‘the comfort zone.’ Sure, you will get hit, but mighty forces will come to your aid if you remain brave! And if all this sounds like it’s out of a hard-hitting drama, see Sattar, and you will be convinced that if one is lighthearted and surrounded by friends, life is a comedy. Everything eventually sorts itself out.