Director: Ayan Mukerji
Starring: Ranbir Kapoor Alia Bhatt Mouni Roy Amitabh Bachchan Nagarjuna Shah Rukh Khan
New Delhi: ‘Brahmastra’ starring Alia Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor, Mouni Roy, Amitabh Bachchan, Nagarjuna, Shah Rukh Khan creates and sets a new benchmark for the fantasy-adventure genre in Indian filmmaking. Ayan Mukerji manages to create a wondrous spectacle by mixing genres and influences from the Western( particularly, American) and Indian canon and mythology.
‘Brahmastra’ opens in the typical fashion of most films of such genre through an animated backstory. The story begins with the voiceover of Amitabh Bachchan who introduces the Astraverse to audiences. He also narrates the film in retrospect in most parts. From the very beginning, the 3D visuals of the animation up until the title card of the film shows up is meant to wow audiences and create a sense of awe, done very much with the help of a grandiose background score that befits the genre.
PS: Slight spoilers ahead
Ranbir Kapoor as an uninitiated puzzle of the Astraverse is introduced. Shah Rukh Khan’s narrative is interlaced with that of Ranbir who plays Shiva, a good-at-heart romantic Bollywood hero who is also a DJ.
Because the monumental task rests on the shoulders of SRK and Ranbir to give and set a sort of fantastical background in a real-world in relatable context, ‘Brahmastra’ takes some time to settle in. The film is slightly disoriented at least for the first 45-minutes until it settles into a much assured and confident pace which also shows through the syntax of Alia and Ranbir’s performances.
Shah Rukh Khan ( as Scientist Mohan) manifesting the power of Vanarastra through himself is grand and almost sets the tone of the epic spectacle to follow. Every time a character manifests the power of his astra, a well-intentioned background score heightens the effect. The visual effects of the astras and their power is also a sight to behold.
This very visual composition complimented by the music tends to take away your attention from the poorly-written dialogue in most parts. In some cases, it actually feels like the English language has been literally translated into Hindi dialogue and it just doesn’t land.
Ayan also makes use of metaphors and binaries like light and darkness, anger-forgiveness quite literally which also render into the colour palette and the texture of the film. Frames get darkened when Mouni Roy( Junoon) who plays the negative character enters them, as they get brightened when Shiva and Isha( Alia) and the other good characters are part of them.
Sequentially, Brahmastra is very well-constructed. You can literally feel and see the effort put in nailing each of the sequences right.
Ranbir Kapoor’s intro song ‘Dance Ka Bhoot’ for instance is unnaturally long, epic and grand in every way. It has hundreds of background dancers, detailing of another kind( elements like women playing drums sitting in a circular structure on top of which Ranbir dances etc.) and is a perfectly-choreographed number which could have been reduced by significant minutes in the film at least.
As we move to Alia and Ranbir’s character meeting and the typical syntax of Bolly-rom-com of ‘love at first sight’ happening, the dialogue and scenes just don’t land. In some parts, the writing does work and some defenses on the privileges of rich are spoken of or some bitter-sweet real moments felt ( like, ‘Ameer huin, nakli nahi’, or ‘baap nahi to naam nahi’), but again, as mentioned earlier, these work in sequences.
One interesting scene is when Ranbir breaks into ‘Chikni Chameli’ and Alia accompanies him right at the hook step moment. It also brings to mind another kind of moment, like a take from Ranbir’s personal history, in ‘Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani’ with Deepika had expressed her feelings for Ranbir’s character in the film.
The undercutting of the main narrative with subplots is another commendable feature in ‘Brahmastra.Ranbir’s narrative being undercut with that of SRK’s adds an organic flow to the film also gives us a great performance by it’s lead star and lends some depth to an otherwise flat storyline.
Ranbir is a great performer and to act most of the film with no tangible objects and visual scenarios to rely on in a first of a kind Hindi fantasy film deserves a special mention.
Likewise, Alia Bhatt is the perfect co-star for Ranbir who even at some moments manages to steal scenes from him.
Mouni Roy’s character for most-part looks like an off-shoot of her ‘Naagin’ role, but her easy-toned-down deep villainy serves the purpose of the film.
Shah Rukh Khan and Nagarjuna’s characters are barely introduced almost like teasers into a full fledged film. Perhaps, as audiences, we can expect to see more of them and their backstories in other parts of ‘Brahmastra’.
This one mentionable sequence is when under Mouni as Junoon’s dark power, SRK as Mohan is struggling, there is a moment when he resists her power to reveal the hidden truths about Brahmansh( the secret do-gooders society of people who are responsible for protecting Earth, Brahmastra). There is a very dramatic almost TV-soap-like moment when Amitabh Bachchan ( guruji)’s face is about to be revealed but not shown. That happens a few times to make you realize the experiment with form that the filmmaker is attempting.
Likewise, in the post-interval film, when the catastrophe strikes the Ashram, the theatre screen goes blank multiple times, a very ‘Endgame’ like move, but honed and polished in a way that this another experimentation with film as a form deserves a mention.
The action sequences of ‘Brahmastra’ are also well-written, shot and executed.
The design suits the genre and the aesthetic and isn’t overdone. However, the dialogue and some patchy sequences in the screenplay which were meant to relate tend to alienate the audience, especially the cringy-love confessions between Alia and Ranbir’s characters.
In terms of the arch, ‘Brahmastra’ works in the typical fashion. A rise and catalyst in the first half and then the backgrounder and initiation into the second half until the climax at the end.
The first half of ‘Brahmastra’ closes at Shiva saving Isha and using his Agni astra to do so. The background score which accompanies the sequence is great as is his manifestation into that power. Visually, it’s a memorable sequence. Likewise in the long climax, just before Junoon punctures Shiva’s manifestation of Agni with Jal, the VFX is so grand and almost sublime, that it stands out completely.
The post-interval film is slightly stretchy and over-the-top. It opens with a baby crying as his house is on fire. Another angle added to a rather simple and straight-forward film that over utilizes the metaphor of love, its purity and all that it can achieve.
The breaking into ‘Deva’ Deva’ like ‘Kesariya’ is done organically but again it just doesn’t fit so well. At a point, when Ranbir is seen jamming to the track as flares of fire surround him as the camera does the arc shot, you really want it to stop.
This could also be because of the promotions and over-selling of the film with so much footage out there before the release that it does take away a sense of raw pleasure of first time watching the film, at least that happened for me.
However, the stunning cinematography and composition in ‘Deva Deva’ and like most of ‘Brahmastra’ tends to take your eyes and attention away from even its minutest flaws.
For instance; a thought does tend to come for a film which has been promoted along the lines of deeply original ‘Indian film’ rooted in its culture, etc. Could ‘Brahmastra’ have been more rooted had it been shot in the country? Perhaps, as audiences we are not aware of the logistical calculations and the particular aesthetic the maekrs wanted to achieve, but ‘Brahmastra’ could have more rooted had it been majorly in India.
The climax of the film, for instance, also looks and feels a little off. The overextended and exploited love metaphor which gets activated by the love Shiva feels for Isha makes the entire premise a little silly. But, the visual grandeur of ‘Brahmatsra’ overshadows everything.
And, like a thorough filmmaker, as Ayan closes all threads and structurally resolves everything in the film leaving enough loopholes and unanswered questions for its sequel, ‘Brahmastra’ is a must-watch one-of-a-kind-astraverse universe film.
There is so much hard work put into ‘Brahmastra’. Particularly the special effects, the mixing- indeigenousing and owing of genre conventions, and through Alia and Ranbir’s performances for which ‘Brahmastra’ deserves its due respect and place in Indian cinematic history.
PS: The reviewer can be slightly biased towards Ranbir Kapoor films.