'Salaar' movie review: Prabhas brings the big guns in this unabashed masala potboiler

Although Prithviraj has very little to do in Salaar Part 1: Ceasefire, it is clear that his story is the emotional core of the film.

Deification. Indian cinema heroes have a God complex. This God complex in our films is best enjoyed when it is an accidental occurrence. The heroes don’t know when they will turn into God for the scores of people waiting for a saviour. In Prashanth Neel’s latest, Salaar, a rather inspiring retelling of his debut film, Ugramm, there is a scene where Prabhas’ Deva is built up to be this saviour/God. He doesn’t know who he is going to slay. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t know the repercussions of his singular act. He doesn’t care. But why does he use an axe, a gun, a sword, and a trident to do away with around 25-30 henchmen and their chieftain? Because they dared to lay a hand on a young girl. Now, he cares.

As the bloody rampage comes to a close, an old and weary woman comes hobbling with a walking stick, touches his arm, and says, “I’m just checking if you are real or not…” Deva is not just a God in Salaar… he is a myth, and sometimes these myths cannot be bound by earthly concepts like logic.  
Salaar begins with the story of two friends — Deva and Varadha —  and how each of them expresses their affection towards each other with an act of sacrifice that belies their age. There is a promise between these friends that results in a bloody violent saga 25 years later.

But just like the film, let’s get back to this later. We first have to see why Deva, who is shown to be a violent man in flashes, is now a docile mechanic based in Assam. We also have to see why his mother (Easwari Rao) is wary of even seeing a plastic knife in his hand. Of course, there are glimpses of his brute strength and potential, and we know he is a ticking time bomb. But when would he explode? It is this buildup that Prashanth gets right. There is not a single soul in the audience who thinks Deva is going to remain a non-violent person, and yet… we stay for the ride. And finally, when the punches fly like cannonballs, the kicks land like a fallen tree, our patience is vindicated. 

Prabhas is a monstrous presence in Salaar, and he looks every part a killing juggernaut. While watching him steamroll his way through his adversaries, we hardly feel distracted because the stunt choreography, cinematography (Bhuvan Gowda), music (Ravi Basrur), and editing (Ujjwal) find newer ways to mount similar scenes. One might think there is only so much novelty you can bring to the 73rd stunt sequence. But then, Prashanth finds a way to ensure we are invested even if the happenings are familiar.

Take, for instance, the scene where Deva and Varadha stand side-by-side to defeat an army of rabid drugged-up youngsters. It gives us the feel of suddenly watching a zombie film, and yet, Prashanth uses this as the only scene where we have the two friends actually having a conversation about what happened in the 25 years they were away from each other. There is also this scene where Deva is placed like a God with weapons coming out of various hands. Now, we have seen this imagery many a time in the past, but it is a treat to see how Prashanth envisions this scene. Of course, he might not yet be well-versed in the art of pulling back punches, and reining in the melodrama, but why should he? The formula seems to be working so far. Also, there are some interesting places that I didn’t quite expect the film to go to but before pondering on the nuances we are pulled back into the world of Khansaar.

Although Prithviraj has very little to do in Salaar Part 1: Ceasefire, it is clear that his story is the emotional core of the film. We are shown enough to understand that Part 2 is going to be about his story. The unbridled charisma of the star comes in full force in Salaar, and Prithviraj wonderfully sells the reticent but ambitious Varadha. The film is filled with so many important characters that, after a point, we lose track of them. Also, we jump through multiple locations in the film but they barely register. There is the whole familial saga, an almost Game of Thrones-esque fight for the throne of Khansaar. But the biggest sense of dejavu comes from Prashanth’s very own KGF.  

Salaar’s Khansaar is just a more populated and more developed Narachi. Shruti Haasan’s Aadhya is just a catalyst of sorts in Salaar, and serves as the replacement of Malavika Avinash from KGF. Mime Gopi’s Bilal is a different version of Anant Nag and Prakash Raj from KGF. The multiple antagonists of Salaar wouldn’t feel out of place in KGF either. The music, the visuals, and the edit pattern are similar too, but they can also be seen as the signature style of Prashanth. And the weapons… well, it is the same, but where Prashanth gets it right is in placing it in the hands of a different person. In KGF, we saw Rocky Bhai first, and Yash later. In Salaar, we know it is a Prabhas vehicle, and unlike the past couple of films, the actor looks comfortable in the front.

But make no mistake, it is Prashanth who firmly plonks himself in the driver’s seat manoeuvering Salaar through cliches, familiarity, and bloody violence. 

Five years ago, Prashanth came up with the umpteenth retelling of The Hero’s Journey, and enamoured an unsuspecting audience. This time, the filmmaker takes an audience, comparatively more discerning of his style, on a similar journey. A journey that reminds us of a time when promises were made to be kept. A journey that reminds us of a time when relationships were forged through these dramatic sacrifices. A journey that is unabashed masala cinema, and has the potential to make Gods out of characters, and demi-gods out of superstars. A journey that feeds into the Indian hero’s need to have a God complex. But wait… if it is Prashanth who is orchestrating such a journey for his stories and stars… then who is actually being deified?
Cut to black…

Director:  Prashanth Neel
Cast: Prabhas, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Easwari Rao, Shruti Haasan, Sriya Reddy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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