The tale of a young and zealous cop who goes against his amoral colleagues to save an innocent man from spending a lifetime in prison should, ideally, make for an interesting film founded on a good heart, that explores the dark side of the law-enforcement system.
Salute, directed by Rosshan Andrews, is, at best, a good-hearted film that voices against police apathy and the incarceration of innocents. However, this worldview doesn’t come across as an outcome of the film’s narrative arc, but a sly exterior – a slogan on a banner – that tries to cover up the flaws of an utterly lazy screenplay. For one, we know the hero Aravind Karunakaran (Dulquer Salmaan) is a principled man in a corrupt world, because he tells us. The film relies too much on expository dialogue to inform the viewer of the character’s past and the film’s context. How does one take a police drama seriously when the only moment with some flourish in its former half is the scene where the hero reunites with his old motorbike?
Salute is powered by the moral outrage and guilt of Aravind Karunakaran, a newly-inducted cop who briefly left the service after he had to participate in the unethical act of framing an innocent working-class man in a twin-murder case. His seniors, including his brother (Manoj K Jayan), the head of the police station, are remorseless. Guilt tearing him up inside, Aravind decides to make reparations by tracking down the murderer.
This theme of ‘good cop vs bad cops’ isn’t novel or rare in mainstream cinema. Malayalam cop dramas have, from the beginning of time, used a stock character, a thoroughly unethical policeman, as a foil for the cop hero who is hellbent on uncovering the truth. In Salute, Andrews and his writers, Sanjay-Bobby, do not map out the background of this conflict but direct their energy to launch a regular cat-and-mouse chase between Aravind and the anonymous killer. As a result, you never learn about Aravind’s inspirations or the emotional details of his relationship with the people around him. The narrative is dipped in unwarranted pathos and marred by great ambiguities and flat characterisations.
After spending five years in a north Indian city, studying to become a lawyer, Aravind returns home only to be pulled back into the old case. One would assume it takes a lot of courage to be able to do what he does, to go on a path of remorse, even at the cost of his career and life. But you hardly feel Aravind is human enough to undergo a deep emotional turmoil. He remains aloof, smothered by Dulquer Salmaan’s dapper looks and lifeless dialogue.
The film evokes no sense of place. An incident of a twin murder should deeply hurt the normal life in a small town, but in Salute, the town is reduced to a name board. The investigation takes Aravind to different places, sometimes from one end of Kerala to the other, yet the viewer doesn’t feel the effect of this change of location. Interestingly, the film’s detachment from its milieu mirrors the state of its female lead actor, Diana Penty, who looks completely out of place.
Rosshan Andrews holds back the narrative instead of letting it propel. The non-linear storytelling, especially in the initial portions, feels more like an excess than a necessity. When the film, in the second act, becomes a cat and mouse chase, between the good cop and the bad cops, between the hero and an anonymous villain, the narrative remains cold. It doesn’t gather momentum or stun the viewer with smart twists and turns.
The police investigation part falls in the no man’s land between a procedural and a thriller. Aravind meets several people and uncovers many lies, yet there is not a single moment that keeps the viewer on edge. The plot relies on too many coincidences, some of them too implausible even by the standards of commercial cinema. Sanjay-Bobby repeatedly pull the same trick to keep it going: Just as Aravind reaches the person he assumes to be the real killer, voila! he learns that man was merely a cover. These encounters with suspects are pointless, not contributing anything to the hero’s journey but reducing it to something peripheral.
Dulquer is a good-looking actor stuck in roles that do not demand great looks. He turns Aravind into a charming young man, but he fails to turn his powerlessness, moral dilemma and emotional conflicts believable. But there is only so much someone like Dulquer, whose craft is largely dependent on his director and writer, can do in a film like Salute that makes its hero go in circles instead of creating a meaningful character arc. Aravind Karunakaran comes in contact with the ugliest aspects of the police department yet learns nothing from his journey.
This Salute review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.