Two men with a shared past. Promises given and promises broken. A throne waiting for a new king. Prashanth Neel’s pan Indian film Salaar: Part 1- Ceasefire is based closely on his debut Kannada film Ugramm (2014). The director, who shot to fame with the KGF (2018, 2022) films, is known for his world building skills, and the ideas in Ugramm — shot on a modest budget of Rs 4 crore — take wing on Salaar’s giant canvas and how! Here is a comparison between Ugramm and Salaar — the similarities and twists that Neel has made to the plot and its treatment.
Ugramm has actors Srimurali (Agastya), Haripriya (Nithya), Tilak (Bala) and Padmaja Rao (Agastya’s mother) playing pivotal roles while in Salaar, the characters are played by Prabhas (Deva), Aadya (Shruti Haasan), Prithviraj (Varadha) and Easwari Rao (Deva’s mother) respectively.
Ugramm begins with a promise. Agastya’s father is killed, and the gangster who did the deed refuses to have him buried. He wants to humiliate the dead man and his family further by letting scavengers feast on the corpse. But Bala, Agastya’s best friend, and the son of a powerful gangster who rules the fictional town of Mughor, persuades his father to let the family bury the man. Agastya and his mother move out of the town, but Agastya promises Bala that he will return to his side whenever called.
Salaar has a more explosive opening sequence. Varadha’s stepbrother pulls out his septum ring that marks him as a royal in the tribal kingdom of Khansaar. He tells him that he can have it back only if one of his loyals defeats a wrestler in the ring. Varadha asks his friend Deva for help, and the latter – though a mere boy pitted against a grown man – performs the remarkable feat by putting his own life in danger.
Here, too, Deva’s father is killed, but the situation when Varadha extends his help is different. Rape is a weaponised tool in warfare, and Deva’s mother comes under threat from a tribal chieftain and his men after her husband’s assassination. But Varadha stops the assault by offering the chieftain one of his largest territories, even without consulting his father. This brings down his status further in Khansaar, but Varadha repays Deva’s loyalty and seals their friendship for life.
In Ugramm, Agastya promises Bala that he will come to his aid whenever the latter needs him. In Salaar, Neel recreates this promise but also channels the promise made in KGF between Rocky (Yash) and his mother. Here, Deva’s mother asks her young son to promise her that he will never return to Khansaar, but Deva walks past her and promises Varadha that he will return whenever his friend calls him – as either prey or predator (“eraina suraina”).
Those who have watched the KGF films (and honestly, who hasn’t?) will understand the impact of the scene. The hero’s friendship runs so deep that he’s willing to go past his mother’s word. In Ugramm, this promise demanded by the mother appears at a later point in the plot when Agastya and Bala are grown men. They have a fallout and the latter is about to kill Agastya. Agastya’s mother pleads with her son to promise that he will leave Mughor and never return, and he yields to her words.
There’s a sequel to Salaar, and it’s likely that the second film will feature another promise between mother and son. We see hints of this in the first film – the mother exercising tight control over her son and the latter being obedient to her rules. Though Deva prioritised Varadha over his mother when it came to the first promise, the equation has clearly changed. Something has happened between the first promise made in childhood and now – an incident that took place seven years ago in Khansaar. We understand this as Part 1 draws to its conclusion, with the flashback stopping at an intriguing point. Though Deva returns to Khansaar to help Varadha, it is revealed that he’s actually the son of a Shourangya chieftain with a stake on the throne.
It's possible that Neel thought of such a twist when writing the script of Ugramm as well. The Kannada film has Agastya’s father offering him advice on how to behave in warfare, but the identity of the father isn’t revealed. At the end of the film, Bala lets Agastya walk free even when he has the opportunity to exact revenge on him for killing his younger brother. Agastya leaves, hoping for a peaceful life. The film was supposed to have a sequel but it never materialised. If it had, there’s a good chance that we would have seen a similar twist, involving Agastya’s father and his right to rule Mughor.
Neel’s films so far have been anchored by a fiery mother figure whose suffering fuels the hero’s rage and ambition. The ‘mother’ isn’t just a character but an idea. So, the hero cannot stop himself from defending and avenging all women who are of his mother’s age or are identified by their motherhood. In Ugramm, Agastya stops Maara, Bala’s brother, from killing an enemy’s wife. This provokes Maara, and he attempts to murder Agastya’s mother. That’s how Agastya ends up killing Maara, thus breaking his precious friendship with Bala.
The 'mother' appears in KGF too. Rocky causes a traffic jam and subtly threatens onlookers with his gun, just to help a poor mother pick up a piece of bread that she’d dropped. “There is no soldier braver than a mother,” he says, and the scene is intercut with his own past, when his mother struggled to bring him up. When an apathetic Rocky arrives in the Kolar Gold Fields, he’s immune to the suffering around him. It is when he sees a mother and her son being shot in front of him that something within him shifts.
In Salaar, Deva is determined not to react to all the insults and humiliations heaped on him and Varadha because of the latter’s instructions. But, when a young girl is about to be assaulted, right in front of her mother, Deva cannot ignore what’s happening anymore. The scene is intercut with the flashback sequence when Deva, as a boy, drove nails into the doors of his house in a desperate attempt to stop a gang from assaulting his mother as spoils of the war.
The other prominent women characters in Neel’s filmography can also be described as “fiery” – like Deepa Hegde and Ramika Sen in the KGF films and Rama and Obulamma in Salaar – but they don’t cast such a long shadow on the plot like the mother figure.
In Salaar, Varadha is shown to be close to Baachi, his brother, who is antagonistic towards Deva. So, it’s likely that something happens between Deva and Baachi – but it remains to be seen if this will involve the mother figure as in Ugramm.
In contrast to the mother figure who controls the hero and his emotions, is the damsel. She’s beautiful, feminine and is under the control of the hero – a reversal of what the mother means to his life. In Ugramm, Nithya is placed under the hero’s protection and he controls her whereabouts. In the KGF series, Rocky abducts Reena and keeps her as hostage, exercising complete control over her life. In Salaar, Aadya’s role is similar to Nithya’s from Ugramm. She comes under Deva’s protection, and eventually discovers his past and falls in love with him. In both the films, the women perform the traditionally feminine role of the nurturer. The running gag in Ugramm, for example, is Nithya’s attempts to cook well and in Salaar, it is Aadya’s attempts to teach English to children. The role of the damsel is not only to romance the hero but also to be awed by his masculinity – she is thunderstruck when she listens to his history of violence and is drawn towards his dangerous side.
Neel has been playing around with fictional worlds from the time of Ugramm though Mughor in his debut film could pass for a real-life town. It’s a gangster den where a struggle for power is afoot. In the KGF films, the story unfolded in the coal mines of the Kolar Gold Fields between 1951 and 2018. Interestingly, Ugramm was the first ever film to be shot outside the cyanide dumps at the Kolar Gold Fields, and we catch a glimpse of the fascination that Neel has with the idea of a town attached to the sooty, dark world of mining.
In Salaar, Deva and his mother take refuge in a small town in Assam which is close to a coal mine. Meanwhile, the fictional kingdom of Khansaar has impressive architecture, but is dominated by the dark tones that were characteristic of the KGF films. In Salaar, Neel’s world building is much more assured – from the clothes, makeup and jewellery worn by each tribe to the kingdom’s constitution and political system, there are a lot of details that he packs into the screenplay. While the succession battle in the gangster den of Mughor in Ugramm was rudimentary and defined by violence, there is more politics involved in the Khansaar of Salaar. The political machinations are similar to what we saw in SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali (2015, 2017) films or Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan (2022, 2023) films that were based on Kalki’s novel series.
Since Suresh Krissna’s Baashha (1995), there have been several Indian films across languages that feature a seemingly calm and gentle hero who has a violent past that is revealed at a crucial moment in the plot. Both Ugramm and Salaar carry forward this legacy. In both the films, the hero is a mechanic who is restrained by the mother and does not indulge in any form of violence. He breaks out of his shackles only on her approval – and in both the films, this happens when the mother asks him to rescue the damsel, thus bringing together the two most important and contrasting female energies in his life.
The transformation is payoff for the audience that has had to watch the hero suffer through insults till that point, and had been waiting eagerly for the moment to come. The non-linear screenplay reveals information bit by bit, expanding the scope for twists and turns.
While Salaar: Part 1 clearly takes plenty of inspiration from Ugramm, the second part of the film will hopefully take the plot threads laid out in the first and create fresh material. Until then, we have the fan theories to keep us entertained!