Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire movie review (2023)

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Deva and Vardha’s friendship threads the needle for Neel’s crazy quilt story, uniting flashbacks to climactic boyhood traumas—they were so close and only ten years old, it was 1985!—with perpetually escalating “Game of Thrones”-type feuds between warring Khansaarian leaders. Will Deva bring peace to Khansaar and re-unite with Vardha? No, of course not. This is a story about how two childhood besties grew up to be the kind of rivals whose hatred is so intense that it makes their story too “frightening to think about,” according to some appropriately over-ripe voiceover narration. That line’s especially funny given that it’s delivered right before the surtitle card (“PART 1: CEASEFIRE”) announces an intermission break.

“Would you like to know his story?” the narrator says about half-way through the movie. “His” obviously means Deva, but it could it just as easily mean Neel, who plays up every on-screen movement as if it were a major dramatic event. Neel tends to over-score action with slow-motion a reverb-heavy score and matching sound effects. He also favors Zack Snyder-y speed-ramping in his fight scenes, which alternately winds up and slows down set pieces so that they’re more about poses than choreography.

There’s no question that Neel’s the key to “Salaar”’s success, so it’s hard to get too upset for his reminding us with every italicized, bolded, and underlined flourish. This movie, like his last two movies, feels like a calculated attempt at synthesizing a few different trends into the next mega-trend, including the Pan-Indian appeal of co-stars Prabhas (Telugu language) and Sukumaran (Malayalam). Neel retraces his steps with bolder, harder stresses, like when a group of women chant and shake their ankle bracelets in unison to thank Deva for delivering them from a tyrannical Lord and his rapist son.

Neel’s become a more polished filmmaker since “Ugramm,” and has used what he’s learned to dig his heels deeper into a style that he’s clearly been thinking about for a while now. It shows, even if “Salaar” is just another adolescent fantasy about a righteous savior and a world-ending civil war, coming soon enough in “Salaar: Part 2.”

In theaters now.


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