From Seven Samurai to SALAAR: Ethical Combat Dramas

SALAAR is available on Netflix now. Before writing about Salaar, let me tell you: My all-time favourite Ethical Combat Dramas are Seven Samurai and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000). By the way, it’s a new genre that I’ve discovered. 😃 Allow me to explain.

SALAAR poster from Netflix
Salaar on Netflix

What Are Ethical Combat Dramas

These kinds of movies explore complex ethical and moral questions, often set within a historical or cultural context. They dive into themes of honour, justice, and the human conditions.

Central to these movies is the element of combat, whether it’s the swordplay of samurai films or the martial arts in movies like ‘Crouching Tiger,’ or even the Gatling gun action seen in post-‘Kaithi’ Indian cinema. Each film employs intense drama to explore its themes and develop its characters.

The drama often unfolds in historical or fantastical settings, adding depth and a sense of grandeur. Another common feature is their epic scope, evident in their narrative scale, the depth of their themes, or their visual magnificence.

Now, SALAAR, knowingly or unknowingly, belongs to this category of Ethical Combat Drama.

Why Seven Samurai Is a Perfect Ethical Combat Drama

Before diving into SALAAR, let me share why Seven Samurai and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are my favourites in the Ethical Combat Drama genre.

Seven Samurai Title Card
Seven Samurai Title Card

I’ll focus on Seven Samurai, as it’s more widely recognised compared to Crouching Tiger. The portrayal of protagonists in this film goes beyond them being merely skilled warriors; they are depicted as complex characters, each with their own moral compass and emotional struggles. This depth elevates the film above a typical action drama.

Contrast and Juxtaposition

Akira Kurosawa, the director, masterfully uses contrast to highlight the heroes’ qualities. For example, the samurai’s skills and moral codes are often juxtaposed against the bandits’ brutality or the villagers’ fear and helplessness. This stark contrast not only showcases the samurai as protectors but also as warriors of virtue.

A Scene from Seven Samurai
A Scene from Seven Samurai

Dynamic Action Sequences

Kurosawa’s dynamic and innovative action sequences, particularly in fight scenes, effectively showcase the samurai’s skills and bravery. The choreography, camera work, and pacing all contribute to portraying these characters as larger than life.

Heroic Actions in Introduction Scenes

A powerful narrative technique Kurosawa employs is introducing a character in a moment of heroism. This approach establishes their role and capabilities within the story efficiently, without relying heavily on dialogue or extensive backstory.

It leverages the psychological ‘halo effect,’ where our impression of a person in one aspect (like heroism) influences our overall perception of them.

Recall the memorable introduction of the first Samurai, heroically saving a child from a kidnapper. If you don’t check the scene here at 19:46

A Scene from Seven Samurai
A Scene from Seven Samurai

Use of Close-ups to Convey Emotion and Tension

A close-up shot from Seven Samurai

Kurosawa’s frequent use of close-up shots is pivotal in capturing and conveying characters’ emotions. By focusing on their expressions, especially in moments of fear or awe, he magnifies the impact of the situation and the presence of the heroes. For instance, scenes where villagers express fear or reverence towards the samurai are made more poignant through tight shots. This technique effectively transmits the characters’ fear, awe, or respect to the audience.

Symbolic Imagery and Metaphors

Kurosawa also masterfully employed symbolism to deepen his storytelling. He used elements of nature, like rain or wind, to mirror the mood or internal state of the characters. This adds a rich layer to their portrayal.

A Rain Shot from Seven Samurai
A Rain Shot from Seven Samurai

Consider the scenes with gusty winds, which set a tone of unrest and turmoil. The natural landscape is another vital element. In Seven Samurai, the rugged, rural setting underscores the themes of the film: the harshness of life for the villagers and the simplicity and purity of their existence. This starkly contrasts with the life of the samurai, caught between their code of honour and the reality of a changing world.

Oh! Wait! Why am I writing all this while I intend to talk about SALAAR?

Because SALAAR tried all the elements that I have shared in a mediocre way without much conviction.

SALAAR falls short as an extraordinary Ethical Combat Drama, even though it had the potential to be one. As I said, it’s not extraordinary, but it’s still a decent film in this genre, albeit lacking a convincing central character.

The World of Khansaar in ‘SALAAR’

A Poster from Salaar
A Poster from Salaar

Director Prashanth Neel’s strength is world-building. With Khansaar, he transports you to a new world and keeps you engaged with multiple storylines. However, for those who have seen Ugram, there may not be any surprises. They might not enjoy this ‘old Khansaar in a new bottle,’ apart from some grandiose action sequences and a lacklustre actor.

Prabhas With A Hangover & Neel With A Template

Prashanth Neel’s protagonists typically embody a machismo figure who abides by his mother’s words. However, in this film, the mother sentiment is overshadowed by the theme of friendship. I commend Neel for not overusing Prabhas in terms of dialogue or action.

Prithviraj & Prabhas from Salaar
Prithviraj & Prabhas from Salaar

Personally, I feel Prabhas hasn’t given his 100% in his recent movies, seemingly relying on his stardom and compromising his skills and effort. To be blunt, his performance appears as if he is acting with a hangover.

Prithviraj’s Mastery vs Neel’s Directorial Gambit

I want to recognise Neel again as a potential director because his efforts to make Salaar a comeback film for Prabhas are evident, even though Prabhas remains the same. Neel manages to extract the best from Prabhas with his slow-motion walking shots, dialogue delivery, and action sequences.

Prashant Neel
Prashant Neel

In every single frame, Prithviraj, as Varadha, excels, highlighting the contrast with Prabhas’ lacklustre performance. The difference is stark and makes it easy to understand why Neel shouldn’t have cast such a strong performer opposite Prabhas.

Prithviraj’s Game of Thrones Analogy and the Reality of SALAAR

It was Prithviraj’s words that initially drew me to watch SALAAR. Known for films like Lucifer, Ayaalum Njanum Thammil, and Ayyappanum Koshiyum, Prithviraj compared SALAAR to the American epic fantasy series Game of Thrones.

Trailer from Lucifer

However, let me clarify: SALAAR mainly revolves around Deva and Varadha, with other characters playing minor or just fancy roles in the screenplay. This fact alone challenges Prithviraj’s comparison.

When it comes to Ethical and Moral Dilemmas, Combat and Strategy, Cultural and Historical Elements, and especially intricate character dynamics – all hallmarks of Game of Thrones – SALAAR doesn’t quite measure up, except in visual grandeur.

In my opinion, PS-1 & PS-2 would be far more appropriate comparisons to Game of Thrones.

Last But Not Least

In summary, SALAAR presents a mediocre attempt at Ethical Combat Dramas because of its shallow characters and massy star obsessions. But I admit that it treads a fine line between potential greatness and missed opportunities.

While it may not fully live up to the towering expectations set by comparisons to epics like Game of Thrones, it still carves out its niche in a genre rich with few moral complexities and thrilling action.

For those who want to try Ethical Combat Dramas and are looking to explore further, I recommend trying classics like ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ which are masterclasses in this genre.

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