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One Man Army

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Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire (2023)

At one point the warring tribes of a criminal, off-the-map Indian territory called Khansaar decide they need more manpower, and various factions hire mercenary armies which are specifically from the following nations: Afghanistan, Austria (whose fighters are all women, as anyone who’s attempted to flirt in a Viennese nightclub can attest), Serbia, South Sudan, Russia, and Ukraine. But one of the leaders of the one of the tribes, Vardha (Prithviraj Sukumaran) goes off to hire exactly one guy. He is Deva (Prabhas), and his absolutely terrifying reputation is well-earned. For large parts of “Salaar: Part One – Ceasefire” he’s so thoroughly soaked in blood he’s like greased lightning. He’s so hard core that his day job is as a blacksmith, and during one battle he takes a break from the fighting to get an enormous tattoo. It’s exactly as awesome as it sounds.

As a child Deva is such best friends with Vardha that, to win a bet on Vardha’s behalf in the jaw-dropping opening sequence, he electrocutes himself. Yes, there is some discussion of his sanity levels over the course of the film. But through various plot twists the best friends are separated. Vardha stays in Khansaar, while Deva ends up working in a coal mine in a remote town on the Burmese border, where his fearsome mother (Easwari Rao) runs the local school. She’s so scary all the kids call her Hitler. Through other plot twists Deva and his mother end up sheltering an American lady named Aadhya (Shruti Haasan), whose father has such a dark past that on an unwise trip to India she is hunted by some very bad men. There’s a confrontation at the coal mine where Deva, in slow motion and using only his bare hands, disables approximately 20 attackers for a variety of disgusting ends via heavy machinery, which is somehow both more and less gory than that description. Even as limbs are sliced off, spines are snapped and there’s enough blood to float a battleship, the violence remains completely watchable, somehow matter-of-fact. Aadhya – who can only watch in stunned silence herself, chin in hand – is whisked to safety by Basil Exposition, I mean Bilal (Mime Gopi), who explains, in a framing device for the flashbacks, just how much of a mess she has gotten into. It’s so complicated eventually Aadhya stops asking questions and just says she needs a drink.

It's the same style of imaginary tribal infighting as the “Aquaman” or “Black Panther” movies, but the violence here is deadly serious instead of cartoonish, and almost entirely hand-to-hand. Prabhas makes the excellent choice to depict Deva’s many, many, many fight scenes with a hunched weariness that demonstrates just how physically exhausting it is to machete 50 or so people to death. The political infighting that takes up most of Vardha’s storyline is not nearly as interesting, though it does involve many peacocking lords covered in an astonishing amount of heavy silver jewelry, and a first-class villainess in Radha (Sriya Reddy), who spends her time either shrieking at her minions from a balcony or whimpering with rage in a corner. There’s no subtlety here – the titular ceasefire between the various Khansaar factions is not threatened by the son of one of the lord’s daily routine of kidnapping, raping and murdering a village girl. All the village women wear face tattoos and similar red saris, a gorgeous choice by Thota Vijay Bhaskar that plays very well with Bhuvan Gowda’s deliberately muted cinematography. When the selected girl’s (Farzana) prayers to the goddess go unanswered, she turns her back on the shrine and prays for a demon to save her instead. Cue Deva’s entrance, and his slow realization that none of the men present will help save the child leads to a sequence of such righteous fury, complete with religious imagery, that the audience nearly whistled the roof off.

Writer-director Prashanth Neel has a clear taste for gratuitous mayhem but there’s never a sense that all this violence is anything other than necessary, and the men who take clear pleasure in causing pain all die very, very horribly. Khansaar’s reputation is so fearsome that the mere sight of its seal stamped on a truck shipment causes entire police squadrons to drop their weapons and beg for their lives, so the planned sequel will obviously have a body count the size of the Himalayas. This kind of action movie is too stressful to be fun, but it’s a high-key thrill ride, and for once “Part One” isn’t a threat.


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