In 2003, when Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Mil Gaya hit the screens, it was predicted that the Hindi film industry will finally have more fantasy dramas that India—the land of the greatest fantastical epics—truly deserves. When it was followed up by Krrish in 2006, the future only looked brighter.
Consecutive failures like Ra. One (2011) and Drona (2020) woke India from this dream and put brakes on the realm of fantasy in Bollywood. Brahmastra has proved that it has the power to revive this dream.
Brahmastra: Part One-Shiva, is centred around orphan Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor), who cannot be harmed by fire. He later learns that he’s an ‘agniastra,’ one among many ‘astras’ in the world guarded by a centuries-old cult. Isha (Alia Bhatt), is the one who triggers the power hidden inside him.
The film pumps much-needed cheer into an industry that is sulking in the aftermath of consecutive box office failures while also heralding the beginning of a fantastical future.
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World-class visual effects
Internet trolls were having a field day when Brahmastra teasers were released. Parallels with the Marvel Cinematic Universe were drawn. The ‘astraverse’ was compared with infinity stones and Mouni Roy was dubbed a cheap version of the Scarlet Witch.
Rest assured, Brahmastra, or the astraverse, has absolutely nothing in common with Marvel. Neither does Mukerji try to copy the treatment of films, any Marvel superhero trope or any lore from the Western world.
The conception of the film is strongly rooted in Indian mythology, culture and traditions. Picking up elements from our vibrant past, Mukerji delivers a story that is familiar yet fresh.
The scale of the film is massive and beautifully handled. There’s no compromise on visual effects and the shots look beautiful. Whenever the astras appear in their full glory, an ounce of pride surges through the heart of an honest Indian movie lover. They’re a work of art.
The action scenes are also smoothly executed and the blocking on screen by actors is next to perfect.
And so is the movie’s scale in grand, larger-than-life scenes. A particularly good example is the song Dance Ka Bhoot, which is set in a Dussehra carnival. Composed by Pritam and sung by Arijit Singh, the peppy rendition is so beautifully shot that it’ll not just move you, but also grip you.
Mukerji and fellow writer Hussain Dalal are careful to set most action scenes in non-typical places, where the scale of the fight is not as grand as, say, New York burning down. This saves money. But, most importantly, you don’t miss or expect that level of destruction. Maybe Mukerji has a note for Western filmmakers—chaos can be shown without blowing up buildings.
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Forced love story
Mukerji’s audacious project failed to be courageous when it came to removing romance as an integral part of the film. Filmmakers have to respect the mature taste of Indian audiences and get away from forcing romances in their stories.
Alia Bhatt’s role as Isha is quite unnecessary. The presence of Bhatt in some scenes towards the climax is bothersome, and the actress becomes a liability on the screen. You keep hoping her character will get something better to do but she doesn’t.
The movie, essentially, focuses on Shiva’s journey of self-discovery as he ventures out to find more about his relationship with fire and who his parents really were.
At the beginning of this journey, he meets Isha and it’s love at first sight. Isha accompanies Shiva on this journey as his Parvati (Isha, the film says is a synonym of Parvati).
The instant spark is convincing but the immediate relationship is not. It’s difficult to buy the fact that just one sob story and adventurous night was enough to convince Isha to follow Shiva on his life-threatening journey and support him through all ordeals. Her presence feels like a burden. Perhaps if they had been lovers for a while, the romantic angle would have made more sense.
Mukerji tries to justify the romance by tying it with the film’s larger narrative. In doing that, not only does his plot venture into a stale category but pulls the film down from classic to above-average. It makes you think if the writing could have been better.
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Ranbir, Amitabh lead the show
The film is carried on the backs of Amitabh Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor who give terrific performances as ‘guru’ and ‘shishya.’
Mouni Roy, however, is really bad as the villain, Junoon. It seems like she forgot she was supposed to act. Her dialogue delivery is flat and her face blank. The writers never reveal the motivation behind Roy’s intentions.
Alia Bhatt’s character doesn’t have any gravitas or endearing personality traits.
The romance also deprived other characters of the screen time they deserved. Had Mukerji not muddied his core plot with a larger-than-life romance on screen, he would have been able to give more serious dimensions to Shiva and flesh out other important characters. Mukerji did grave injustice to Nagarjuna’s character Mahesh Shetty aka Artist. We don’t get to know anything about him except the fact that he also wields a powerful Astra.
When Shiva reaches his guru and tries to learn about his powers, we see other, younger Astra-wielding kids, but never get to know anything about them. They’re mere placeholders who serve no purpose in the climax. To build a franchise, the movie needed all of these characters to be memorable too. But that being said, Brahmastra: Part One-Shiva is a genuine treat to sore eyes, with Mukerji (mostly) hitting the nail on the head.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)