With Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire, acclaimed Indian director Prashanth Neel returns to the fictional world he first explored in his breakthrough 2014 film Ugramm, while bringing along the star power and production values of his more recent blockbuster KGF franchise. This is a dense, defiantly convoluted epic that sees Neel simultaneously playing to his strengths as an orchestrator of ambitiously staged masculine mythmaking, while also testing the patience of all but his most devoted fans with an overloaded narrative.
Overlong and Meandering First Half
Weighing in at nearly three hours, Salaar spans decades and continents, anchored by the intense lifelong bond between the titular hero Salaar, aka Deva (Baahubali’s Prabhas) and his prince childhood friend Vardha (Prithviraj Sukumaran). When we first meet the taciturn, enigmatic Salaar in the present day, he is in hiding with his mother (Easwari Rao), only to soon become swept up in the plight of a young woman, Aadhya (Shruti Haasan) who is on the run from vengeful criminals. This eventually draws Salaar back to Vardha and the fictional land of their youth, Khansaar, where civil war looms.
True to form, Neel takes a languid, roundabout path to establish these basic plot points. The first half of the vastly overlong film is consumed by cryptic flashbacks and monologues, doled out piecemeal. It’s not until past the interval mark that Neel pivots into the extended flashback that forms the crux of this installment, detailing the rupturing of Vardha and Salaar’s bond amid bloody power grabs and betrayals in Khansaar’s royal family.
Familiar Mythic Storytelling Style
Neel has admitted the story has been reconfigured from Ugramm to more closely follow the blueprint of his KGF films, and indeed, Salaar often feels reverse-engineered to capitalize on goodwill from those unexpected pan-Indian smashes. Salaar shares KGF’s drab palette of burnished, desaturated hues, its heavy reliance on voiceover narration to connect the temporal dots, and its positioning of the protagonist as a reluctantly violent savior figure.
However, unlike the propulsive KGF Chapter 1 and 2, Salaar’s narrative feels shapeless and bloated,dmuch more time to scanning patiently for plot developments or moments of action. Neel remains utterly committed to his peculiar, idiosyncratic, and slow-burning storytelling style, which mingles masala melodrama tropes, highly stylized action, and absurd yet grave mythic undertones. He caters to hardcore fans willing to put in interpretive work to unravel convoluted timelines and relationships. For those not already on his wavelength, however, his storytelling approach verges on self-indulgent.
Spectacular Action Scenes
Where Salaar comes alive most vividly is in delivering the goods fans have come to expect from Neel – set pieces portraying the righteous hero engaging in elaborately staged, cathartic violence. Salaar’s brooding taciturnity in the first half pays off tremendously in the second, when Neel strings together increasingly grandiose and gonzo confrontations between his protagonist and waves of foes.
Here Neel is totally in his element, devising new ways to aestheticize the spectacle of a musclebound juggernaut destroying all in his path. He makes compelling use of slow motion, dynamic poses, and thunderous sound design to present Salaar as a figure of divine retribution. The valuation of style over extreme violence allows these scenes to feel more like violent ballets rather than gratuitously gory.
Strong Lead Performances
Prabhas, who understands the mythic register Neel is operating in, plays Salaar with an imposing silence and coiled intensity. Prithviraj Sukumaran as Vardha also makes for a solid co-lead, effectively portraying the pathos of their broken brotherhood. However, the diluted emotional impact of their relationship, like much in Salaar, likely won’t fully materialize until the concluding chapter.
Weighed down by a messy narrative that spends too much time promising payoffs instead of delivering them, Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire nonetheless contains enough of what makes Neel so beloved, especially the heavy metal action extravaganzas. It proves he remains one of Indian cinema’s truly unique voices, even if this overlong first chapter suggests Neel’s storytelling strengths work best in more concentrated doses. For fans, glimpses of the tale’s grand design should be enough to eagerly await the second part. But the uninitiated may wish he trimmed the fat and got to the fiery heart quicker.