Brahmastra Part 1: Shiva (3-D) is fresh, but needed some simplicity

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Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Amitabh Bachchan in Brahmastra Part One: Shiva. Photo: Universal Communications

It is time, perhaps.

Move over, Marvel Cinematic Universe: Indian cinema has its own Astra (weapon)-Verse now, with stories originating from Indian mythology. And yes, there are some teething problems as we start with a fresh genre for Hindi cinema: first and foremost, since this is aimed as a trilogy, a convoluted saga is there that is not coherent enough for normal filmgoers.

The core of the main issue with Brahmastra Part One: Shiva is that writer-filmmaker Ayan Mukerji has it all, perhaps, clear in his head about how the entire saga and this part will pan out and climax, but to a filmgoer who is compelled to think of so many things while being distracted by so much action, visuals and grandeur, the storyline and the intent of it all is not crystal-clear, as it should be, and is so in most of the MCU films.

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But Ayan, and we Hindi filmmakers, will learn this in the next installment, I guess. And hope!

After all, S.S. Rajamouli, who presents this film in its South Indian language versions, is a past master who can equal or better this kind of genre with a fraction of Hollywood’s budgets! And comic-book-like stories like his will always work, as proved even in Hindi cinema in films like Mr. India for one, Gadar—Ek Prem Katha for another, and some more.

Briefly, the story is about the conflict between Amrita and Dev (both not shown in the film) that leads to a love child, and the tussle between good and evil that ensues finally between DJ Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) and Junoon, the Queen of Darkness (Mouni Roy). The crux is the Brahmastra, whose missing part can give unlimited power for good as well as evil, depending on its user. The good side is represented by the Brahmansh, a group of individuals who are, in effect, protecting the world from evil and darkness.

Shiva himself is an orphan who, Mr India and Brahmchari (1968) fashion, looks after several orphan kids and never finds life dark or sad. He falls instantly with love with Isha (Alia Bhatt) when he spots her at a Kali Pooja and she reciprocates, especially when she finds that Shiva and his buddies care more for the orphans than mere lucrative assignments.

But Shiva, who is unharmed by fire, also gets weird visions of a lady in black, Junoon, and her victim, the famous scientist Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan), whom she kills along with her accomplices (Saurav Gurjar and Gurfateh Pirzada), and ‘sees’ that her next target will be Professor Anish (Nagarjuna Akkineni) in Varanasi.

Isha insists that Shiva becomes an open book and does not keep any secrets of any kind from her. When she learns that a real Anish exists in Varanasi, she decides to accompany Shiva there against his wishes, telling him that Isha is one of the names of Parvati, Shiva (Lord Shankar)’s wife and that his meeting her is no accident.

Shiva and Parvati manage to save Anish temporarily but he persuades them to go to the Guru (Amitabh Bachchan) of the Brahmansh and deliver what he possesses (a part of the Brahmastra) to him. What happens after that forms the rest of the film, whose next part, as announced at the end of the movie, will be named Part Two: Dev.

The story is basic, as with all VFX-driven action movies, with an emotional and even religious core, but the screenplay could have delved a bit into the background of Isha, whose family, we are informed, holds the Kali Puja. The timeline between the Puja (held on Dussehra) and Diwali (which comes three weeks later) is also obscure and confused. Also, how Shiva, for all time seemingly, abandons his kids for the rest of the movie is not seen worthy of explanation and robs the film of a valuable emotional prop. I also did not see the logic (though some facile explanation is given) for Isha being sent home for a while and then brought back to the headquarters of the Brahmansh high up in the hills.

Shiva’s conduct is erratic too. He suddenly becomes the worldly youngster (the way he turns down the Guru’s offer to be with the Brahmansh forces in their mission) and then spiritual by turns. The end also needs a bit of explaining (besides shortening by at least 10 to 15 minutes) as the visuals seem to just aim at impressing the viewer with CGI pyrotechnics.

But as I said before, we will learn!

The action and VFX are truly grand, the 3-D truly justified, and the basic, comic-book-like story and screenplay keep you riveted for the entire first half and most of the second. The chase in the hills of Himachal Pradesh and the Varanasi sequence are full of thrilling moments.

Ayan Mukerji lets the romance be interwoven into this tale in a very youth-friendly fashion, but this treatment also has side-effects: one, it detracts from the momentum of the basic story when time and effort should have been taken on making that simpler to understand. Also, the initial sequences have a zany modernity in its flippancy that is at odds with the serious premise of this film, like how the couple spends time romancing in Varanasi while actually being there on a mission, though Isha declares her love for Shiva only much later!

Pritam scores overloud background music to presumably match global standards for such spectacles, and among his songs, only “Deva deva” remains with you after the film is over. “Kesariya” and the “Dance ka bhoot” number are not so memorable and the rest, not at all. The overdrive of Arijit Singh in his music has been harming his easy-appeal quality for a good while and it has now gotten into over-over-dose!

Ranbir Kapoor is in his element like his father used to be—low-key but eloquent. Alia Bhatt is again impressive—it is amazing to see the growth of this actress with every single film. But we fail to see why the director has seen fit to dress her in costumes that are rarely in sync with the gravitas the film wants and her character deserves. From the rest, Dimple Kapadia is criminally wasted, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan effortless, as are the younger Bramansh gang. Nagarjuna has too brief a role and Mouni Roy as the comic book vamp does all the right things.

This is a promising start for a larger-than-life spectacle in Hindi cinema, and here’s being optimistic for better movies to come in the future. After all, in OTT times, big-screen entertainment must have some justification to pull in audiences.

Rating: ***1/2

Fox , 3DStar Studios, Dharma Productions, Starlight Pictures & Prime Focus presents Brahmastra Part One: Shiva  Produced by: Karan Johar, Hiroo Johar, Apoorva Mehta, Ranbir Kapoor, Ayan Mukerji, Marikje DeSouza & Namit Malhotra  Directed by: Ayan Mukerji  Written by: Ayan Mukerji & Hussain Dalal Music: Pritam  Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Mouni Roy, Nagarjuna Akkineni, Saurav Gurjar, Gurfateh Pirzada, Lehar Khan, Markand Soni, Aditi Joshi, Stanzin Delek, Rouhallah Gazi, Chaitnya Sharma, Saqib Ayub, Rashi Mal, Rohan Rustomji, Masood Akhtar, Nivaan Gupta & Sp. App. : Dimple Kapadia & Shah Rukh Khan

 

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