In light of Salaar, I can't help but appreciate Lokesh Kanagaraj for the way he ensured that Thalapathy Vijay's character had enough things to do in Leo.
I did not like Leo as much as I thought I would . However, I was inspired to reconsider my opinion about the film, starring Thalapathy Vijay and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, after watching Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire.
It's not easy to make a film that fits the onscreen image of superstars like Vijay and Prabhas. Even the most versatile filmmakers fumble, grope in the dark and make drastic commercial concessions always at the expense of the narrative.
Watching Prashanth Neel's approach in Salaar, I gained a fresh perspective on the challenges of filmmaking. Rather than prioritizing the development of a compelling narrative, it seemed like Neel was more focused on chasing sensational elements, akin to "chasing the dragon."
A popular screenwriting wisdom dictates that one should "write only what the story demands." In other words, putting a car chase sequence because you like to shoot a car chase sequence is not advisable. If you are still adamant about doing that then you will inevitably digress from the natural trajectory of the narration, necessitating weak justifications and causing a disconnection between the movie and the audience.
Prashanth Neel has violated this cardinal rule of storytelling over and over again in pursuit of a euphoric sensation in Salaar. Instead of telling the story, he had been hellbent on recreating the initial intense and pleasurable high that the audiences experienced while watching his breakout film KGF. The result of this cinematic misadventure rendered Prabhas' Deva largely paralyzed and relegated to a passive presence, only regaining vitality during action sequences.
Salaar made me think about the plight of the big stars, trapped within a lucrative but confining golden cage that guarantees impressive openings while yielding instantly forgettable movies. Salaar is made with the sole intention of selling as many tickets as possible in record time. It's purely a product of marketing, narrowing the concept of entertainment to a superficial extent.
I am not going to argue with the commercial success of tentpole films. But, consider for a moment a few existential questions: have our big superstars become the victims of stereotypes? Will they ever be rewarded not just in big box office receipts but also in terms of creating opportunities to showcase their talents?
Prabhas didn't become a superstar with Baahubali. He gained a massive fan following with his 2003 action drama Raghavendra. And his newfound stardom was solidified with films like Varsham and Chatrapathi. He didn't just shine in action films, but he also charmed people's hearts with his talent for humour and dramatic performances in films like Darling, Mr. Perfect and Mirchi. But, it was the Baahubali series that took his popularity across the world.
Prabhas has a lot more to offer than his towering physique and imposing onscreen presence. However, his last few movies since Baahubali have proved the old wisdom — bigger is not always better.
In light of Salaar, I can't help but appreciate Lokesh Kanagaraj for the way he ensured that Vijay's character had enough things to do in Leo, besides killing a bunch of people in well-choreographed and beautifully shot action sequences.
In Leo, Vijay's Parthiban needed to fend off his enemies, and keep his family safe, all the while performing a highwire act to conceal his actual identity. And for that he needed to lie, emotionally manipulate, and guilt trip his family into believing that he's Parthiban and not the cold-blooded killer Leo. Leo aka Parthiban finds himself in really a sticky situation and he begs, steals and kills to get out of the trouble.
It's no brainer that Salaar takes its narrative blueprint from the cult classic Baasha, starring Superstar Rajinikanth. The initial part of Salaar revolves around tracking Deva's transformation from paper tiger to tiger. In Baasha, Rajinikanth's violent past is only revealed in the second half but in the first half, the hero has a few challenges to overcome: he needs to steer clear of all kinds of troubles, provide for his family, and of course, obscure his real identity.
In Salaar, Prabhas has nothing except to be at the mercy of others. He cannot unleash violence until he gets a go-ahead, initially from his mother and then from his friend Vardharaja Mannar (Prithviraj Sukumaran). This puts Deva in a passive state for most of the film.
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That said, the visuals of Salaar look brilliant. The art direction, the costume and the CG effects collaborate to produce a beautiful cinematic experience. But, the hallowed walls of Salaar and the enigmatic characters feel empty due to a lack of robust writing.
Prashanth Neel is a terrific director, but his writing leaves much to be desired. Not for nothing the process of filmmaking is called a democratic exercise. It's time our top directors junk the auteur theory and collaborate with other screenwriters to infuse vitality into our blockbuster movies and nourish the untapped talents of our superstars.
Somebody get Prashanth Neel a good script!