Salaar and Vardha are amplified versions of Thalapathi’s Devaraj and Surya — but high on testosterone, with low EQ

Salaar and Vardha are amplified versions of Thalapathi’s Devaraj and Surya — but high on testosterone, with low EQ
A strong man whom the people regard as their ruler due to his righteousness faces numerous obstacles in his path; seeking solace and assistance, he turns to his best friend, a formidable figure known for strength, dominance and virtue; the latter assumes the role of commander, and together, they lead their army against the ruler’s rivals who are determined to dethrone and eliminate him; the unbreakable bond between the ruler and his commander proves insurmountable, with their deep love for each other serving as their most powerful weapon.

If you’ve watched both Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi and Prashanth Neel’s Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire, a retelling of Neel’s 2014 film Ugramm, you may be uncertain about which movie is being discussed here. Don’t worry; it’s not your fault if you can’t identify the film. In fact, from its core to the surface, Salaar is essentially a revamped version of the 1991 gangster film, which itself draws inspiration from the purported friendship between Karna and Duryodhana, characters from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

To start, the titles of both films convey a similar meaning. While Thalapathi can be interpreted as commander or leader, in Neel’s movie, a character explains that the term Salaar, a sobriquet for the hero Devaratha Shouryangaa Raisaar (Prabhas), refers to a title bestowed by Persian kings on those who act as a one-man army for the monarch.

Simultaneously, both Thalapathi and Salaar introduce their heroes — Surya (Rajinikanth) and Deva, respectively — following their mothers’ dialogues. Surya appears on screen after his mother Kalyani (Srividya) expresses uncertainty about his whereabouts to her husband Krishnamoorthy (Jaishankar), while Deva is introduced after his mother (Easwari Rao) shares with Aadhya (Shruti Haasan) how children can become deadly weapons if not raised with the utmost care. While both instances underscore how poor upbringing can affect people’s lives, Salaar distinctly celebrates what Deva has become, whereas Thalapathi avoids promoting such an idea.

In all honesty, the characters Deva and Vardha Raja Mannar (Prithviraj Sukumaran) are just amplified versions of Surya and Devaraj (Mammootty), ruling over the larger and more affluent kingdom of Khansaar, while being consistently high on testosterone, with low emotional quotient (EQ).

A closer examination of Thalapathi reveals that both Devaraj and Surya, despite often taking the law into their own hands, primarily worked for the common people who were frequently denied lives of dignity. They targeted and eliminated only those who committed severe acts against the oppressed. In Thalapathi, the action sequences mainly depict the heroes confronting the most ruthless villains, and Surya’s victims include Ramana (who assaulted a woman), a rapist cop, those who betrayed him and Deva and Kalivarathan (Amrish Puri) who murdered Devaraj.

While Devaraj views Surya as a force that brings out the goodness within him, for Vardha, Salaar is a weapon capable of committing atrocious acts that he can only dream of but can’t execute publicly. In one sequence in Salaar, as Vardha stands with folded arms and closed eyes, well aware of how far Deva can go now, Salaar unleashes fury on every part of one of the villain’s armies, amputating every other member of it, before killing their leader. This further underscores Deva’s beast-like nature and how Vardha amplifies it.

Over 90 minutes into Thalapathi, Devaraj and Surya are summoned to the office of district collector Arjun (Arvind Swamy). Amidst demands from the authorities to relinquish their kingdom and surrender to the law, an offensive remark from Arjun irks Surya, leading him to issue a warning to him. In response, a senior police officer (Kitty) sitting nearby shouts at him; Surya, provoked by this, leaps from his chair and charges towards the officer. Witnessing the unrestrained Surya, Devaraj promptly rises, reprimanding Surya by calling his name and a firm grasp of his hand, calming the latter completely.

Cut to: In a pivotal moment in Salaar, Deva and Vardha stand in the royal court. Despite Vardha’s strict instructions about court behaviour, recognising the lasting impact of any unnecessary actions, Deva charges toward a royal leader, beheading him as the latter was advancing towards Vardha with a sword seemingly poised to attack. Despite Vardha’s repeated reprimands, Deva unleashes violence in the court, even targeting the army.

The aforementioned moments, strategically placed by the respective filmmakers to underscore the fierceness of their heroes, not only contribute to establishing the characters but also highlight the differences between the unyielding heroes of the past and present.

Another shared moment in both movies, approached in distinct ways, is when the female leads witness the heroes in their absolute monster mode. In Thalapathi, this occurs as Subbulakshmi (Shobana) passes by on a bus and witnesses Surya killing a cop. For her, already drawn to Surya’s goodness, this, along with subsequent moments revealing Surya’s motive (avenging the rape of a woman), deepens her love for him, prompting her to confess her feelings. In Salaar, however, a similar instance merely showcases the hero’s muscular physique and unapologetic attitude, asserting his capacity to kill without remorse. Aadhya falls for him upon witnessing this glorified depiction of bloodshed, perpetuating the unfair notion that women easily fall for macho figures capable of “protecting” them.

Conversely, much like Surya, Deva is also portrayed as close to the children in his neighbourhood, spending quality time with them, highlighting their longing for normal childhoods. The only instances where they exhibit childlike behaviour are when they are with their best friends, Devaraj and Vardha, respectively.

The moment depicting Vardha arriving in Bharuch to recruit Deva as his one-man army to combat rivals in Khansaar is strikingly similar to when Devaraj visits Surya in his slum, seeking to live with him and his family. However, the key difference lies in Devaraj’s actions being driven by a deep understanding of Surya’s appreciation for their friendship, while Vardha’s motives are essentially selfish.

In terms of performance, both Prabhas and Prithviraj fall short of eliciting emotions as impressively as Rajinikanth or Mammootty did. The complete lack of intricacies in Deva and Vardha also leads to Salaar missing a crucial element that is instrumental in the success of Thalapathi — an outstanding rapport between the male leads.

Another aspect that ties both movies together is the significance given to the mother characters, albeit in very different ways. While Kalyani is absent from Surya’s life until the end, Deva’s mother is a constant presence behind him, akin to a shadow, serving as the sole force capable of calming him.

In Thalapathi, we witness a mother who requests and reprimands her sons, discouraging them from committing violent acts and urging them to relinquish weaponry. However, contemporary “pan-Indian films”, such as Salaar, KGF and Baahubali, among others, employ a different strategy to unleash the monstrous side of their heroes without entirely placing the blame for ruthlessness on them. This is achieved through the portrayal of the “mom” and/or women who act as mere scapegoats in the broader narratives, with the men’s actions being attributed to the promises they made to the women. Most such movies include scenes where mothers extract promises from their sons not to engage in violence. Then, when the time and situation demand, it is revealed that the mothers themselves grant permission to their sons to do what is necessary to achieve the goal, regardless of the means. This in/directly implies that it is the women who, in reality, unleash the monsters in these formidable men, as if the men lack agency in their actions. This ensures that sub/consciously audiences assign blame to the women rather than the men.

Beyond Deva and Vardha, several other characters in Salaar share similarities with those in Thalapathi. Examples include Radha Rama Mannar (Sriya Reddy), Bhaarava (Bobby Simha), “Baba” Gaikwad (Tinnu Anand) and Rudra Raja Mannar (Ramachandra Raju), each bearing a notable resemblance to collector Arjun, Kalivarathan, Panthulu (Nagesh) and the senior cop (Kitty).

Thalapathi, or essentially Mahabharata, is not the sole source for the creation of Salaar. One can readily identify parallels between the latest Prabhas movie and works like SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali franchise, as well as Neel’s own KGF duology. At one point, Neel even recreates a famous moment from William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedie of Macbeth, where Deva hallucinates seeing blood on his hands, symbolising a heinous act he has committed.

Nevertheless, even with the abundance of “inspirations,” Salaar is just another typical big-budget actioner headlined by a massive star and hence dubbed into multiple languages. In contrast to Thalapathi, which boasts a nuanced and emotionally charged narrative, Salaar, despite sharing a similar foundation, fails to effectively capitalise on its dramatic elements. One of the reasons behind this is its insane star worship, which mostly overpowers the emotions, offering nothing significant to enjoy during its watch. The overt focus on elevations and the poor characterisations further makes Salaar a tiring watch.

Adding to its shortcomings is the fact that Part 1 serves more as a trailer or intro to the forthcoming sequel, Salaar: Part 2 – Shouryaanga Parvam. This approach diminishes the value of the audience’s time, effort and money, as the film conceals almost everything despite its lengthy runtime of close to three hours. So, genuinely, what was the purpose of this movie?

Also, given Prashanth Neel’s confirmation that Salaar is a retelling of Ugramm, the film’s narrative is well-established, making the overall Salaar saga predictable unless the sequel introduces significant deviations.

Simultaneously, directors like Prashanth Neel, who remains unperturbed by criticism labelling his films as repetitive and views cinema purely as a business, need to recognise that the formula they’ve been relying on has become outdated, and its effectiveness is likely to diminish soon. The fact that Salaar, despite high expectations, couldn’t replicate the success of another typical big-budget actioner like Atlee Kumar’s Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Jawan, even in the domestic market, underscores this point. It’s unfair to expect audiences to embrace films containing nothing more than contrived introductions, exaggerated elevations and mass dialogue moments simply because a superstar leads the project and it boasts a substantial budget. Just as unfair as the fate experienced by Neel’s Ugramm upon its release, failing to fill cinema halls as anticipated. 
Tags :
Share This News On: