Sept 10 (IndiaToday) – ‘Click!’ Alia Bhatt’s Isha loves capturing memories. Every time Isha wants to make note of a memory in her mind, she says ‘click’! Ayan Mukerji’s indigenous effort to create India’s very first multiverse franchise has many such ‘click-worthy’ moments. Visually, Brahmastra Part One: Shiva is one of the finest offerings from Bollywood in a very long time. I don’t remember the last time a car chase scene or a VFX segment in a film had me ditch the phone and invest in what’s happening on the big screen. In an age where our attention span is directly proportional to the novelty the graphics team offers, Brahmastra scores BIG.
Setting up a superhero universe isn’t easy. You have to first lay the foundations and establish the belief system for your protagonist. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) works because you have faith in your superheroes. When Thor strikes that hammer or when the words ‘Avengers Assemble’ are spoken, you suspend every logical belief and invest in what you are witnessing on the big screen. In Brahmastra, Ayan has invested an entire first half in setting up a premise for our leads, Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) and Isha (Alia Bhatt). Ayan’s Astraverse is Made in India. The references from our history are woven in beautifully to give the story an emotional appeal.
Brahmastra’s pitch to sell a ticket might be its lead pair, Ranbir and Alia’s chemistry, but where it actually excels the most is in its Astraverse bits. The story begins with Shiva meeting Isha and falling in love with her. Along the way, he confesses he has a relationship with fire. It doesn’t hurt him, but it scares him. His superpower is also his biggest liability. Before the film breaks for intermission, we are introduced to the Astraverse and its key players. Shiva’s nemesis Junoon (Mouni Roy) is out to get pieces of the broken Brahmastra to finally awaken and please Lord Bramha Dev. Along the way, we also learn of Shiva’s backstory and his mother Amrita, who had a command over Jal Astra. Information overload? Worry not, all this info is explained and presented in a way that doesn’t harrow or make you feel overwhelmed.
Brahmastra might be a desi dish, but its flavours are definitely borrowed from a western kitchen. The Astra Gurukul led by Amitabh Bachchan gives you a Professor X of X-Men feel. Every time Shiva twitches and has visions, you can’t help but remember Frodo going through a similar fate on his journey with the Ring to Mount Doom. While Amitabh Bachchan might not sport a long, grey beard, he mentoring Shiva has shades of Dumbeldore watching over Harry Potter. The comparisons are many, but they don’t feel duplicated or like cheap imitations. The action scenes, especially one involving a car chase and another big moment in the climax, are perhaps the first for any Indian film. Terrific work on not just the thrill but also pushing the envelope and trying something new.
Performances are a mixed bag. Ranbir Kapoor, coming off a weary Shamshera, is nimble on his feet in most of the scenes and brings the much-needed zest to the film. ‘He’s giving me Bunny feels‘ said a friend next to me (an ode to Ayan’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani) in the first half. Alia’s Isha has spunk, her eyes unconditional love for Shiva. Their love story, though, is perhaps the weakest link in this otherwise solid offering. He calls her the ‘button’ to ignite his superpower, but the premise feels wonky.
Nagarjuna’s character, despite his limited screen time, has a solid impact. Mouni Roy as the villain is terrific and breaks the Naagin stigma with this career-altering performance. Amitabh Bachchan as Guruji commands the screen presence required for that role. But the real seeti-maar moment in the film comes in its first 10 minutes with Shah Rukh Khan’s stellar cameo.
Where the film falters is in its rushed narrative. Ayan has a lot to establish, share and make us understand in this first chapter, so the first half feels super rushed. The love story, the flashbacks to Shiva’s childhood and some of the action scenes feel long-drawn and overwhelming. Some dialogues stand out like a sore thumb, especially the ‘Kaun ho tum (Who are you)?’ bit which Shiva gets asked multiple times by Isha.
Brahmastra Part One: Shiva is a solid effort as the first chapter in this trilogy. Ayan ends the film on a cliffhanger with a tease of what’s to follow.
At a time when Hollywood titles like Lord of the Rings and House of the Dragon are dominating the visual effects space, Brahmastra is a gentle reminder that India too isn’t behind in the VFX game and has some of the best work in this genre. Ayan’s message of love defeating darkness and despair couldn’t come at a better time! Brahmastra Part One: Shiva is a visual feast worth your time. Don’t skip this one.