Merry Christmas is about a Scary Christmas!

Katrina Kaif and Pari Maheshwari Sharma in Merry Christmas. Photo: universal Communications

By Sriram Raghavan standards, the film is a placid thriller rather than edge-of-the-seat and twist-laden. It leisurely, almost languidly, unravels its plot through a 145- minute narration.

Adapted from a French novel, Merry Christmas examines a fruitful relationship that develops between total strangers. And everyone’s lives change overnight on Christmas Eve. By (Merry) Christmas morning, sometime in the 1980s in South Mumbai, life will never be the same again for Albert (Vijay Sethupati), a Dubai-returned architect, Maria (Katrina Kaif), who owns a bakery, her six year-old mute daughter Annie (Pari Maheshwari Sharma), Maria’s drug-addict husband Jerome (Luke Kenny) and even the philandering businessman Ronnie (Sanjay Kapoor) who accidentally strolls into her life.

But to put the record straight, it is Albert who wanders into her life first when Annie and Maria are having a meal at a Mumbai restaurant on Xmas eve. A young man (Sahil Vaid) in the Gents’ washroom there tells him to pass a laconic message to his ‘wife’ (pointing her finger to Maria) that he has to leave on urgent business (!). In the process, Albert even decides not to eat the food he has ordered (though he pays for it) and goes after Maria, Annie and the latter’s huge stuffed teddy bear. Stalking her? Yes, but maybe not with shady intentions!

From here to an evening show and a night of revelry that turns into a night of devilry is just one step. Investigating cops Kamdar (Vinay Pathak) and Laxmi (Pratima Kannan) smell a rat and think, “If only the mute Annie could speak!”

Throughout the film, we see troubled souls galore in the leads, and even the cute little Annie is a shade inscrutable in the way she reacts to various situations. The sense of loss for Albert is double: he has lost his mother while away, and his love, Rosie (Radhika Apte) is dead. His wandering into the restaurant where he encounters Maria is thus to find some kind of mental calm when his home disturbs him with memories of his mother.

And in his first meeting with Maria, after she has put Annie to sleep, Albert comes to know of her relationships that are no less troubled in the way she has faced and dealt with them…

To say that Sriram has chosen something different this time (all his thrillers—Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddaar, Badlapur and AndhaDhun are as different as chalk, cheese, caviar, custard and now champagne!) is to state the obvious. But this time, he has chosen a French novel (Bird in a Cage, something that literally plays a key role here, as the viewer will come to know!) and yet dedicated the film to the late Indian filmmaker Shakti Samanta, who has made a few crime dramas. The reason for this is a mystery by itself!

As a plot, the story does have its improbabilities, which none of Sriram’s earlier films have had, and is essentially about characters and a noir-like feel, but then, as the Indian version of Alfred Hitchcock that he has come to be, it is clear that Raghavan cannot repeat even a style of storytelling.

For this reason and for his presentation of nuanced human beings, and again for making the city (as with Pune in Badlapur and AndhaDhun) a character in itself, we predominantly get involved with the people and the multiple possibilities that may emerge once the crisis comes up.

Vijay Sethupati in Merry Christmas. Photo: Universal Communications

Katrina Kaif as Maria puts in a splendid performance as the beleaguered woman who has her own reasons for dallying with two strangers at home in a single night. Vijay Sethupati plays a man criminally assaulted by destiny for no real fault of his. Pari Maheshwari Sharma is cuteness personified as Annie and is a part of the whopping twist (the only whopper one here) in the climax. Sanjay Kapoor as Ronnie struts around as if he owns the world and is effective, but Ashwini Kalsekar as his wife, truly steals the show in the brief cameo-like appearance that she puts in. I also loved the missing wallet angle of Ronnie, as revealed by his wife!

From the rest of the cast, Tinnu Anand as Albert’s landlord, Radhika Apte as Rosie and the two cops also shine.

Pritam’s music does not rise above average levels, ditto the lyrics. Daniel B. George’s background score is retro-based and scores higher. Technically adept, the standout aspects of the film are the production design by Mayur Sharma, the costumes by Anaita Shroff Adajania and Sabina Halder and the DI and VFX by Futureworks Media Ltd. which takes back the city of Mumbai faithfully and effectively into the 1980s.

On the whole, Sriram fans wanting dynamic twists and turns might find the film a shade underwhelming, but as a human drama adapted into Mumbai from a French original, whetted by a tadka (seasoning) of a suspense master, Merry Christmas is decidedly a great start to cinema 2024.

Tips Films and Matchbox Pictures present Merry Christmas  Produced by: Ramesh Taurani, Jaya Taurani, Sanjay Routray & Kewal Garg  Directed by: Sriram Raghavan  Written by: Frederic Dard, Sriram Raghavan, Arijit Biswas, Pooja Ladha Surti & Anukriti Pandey  Music: Pritam  Starring: Katrina Kaif, Vijay Sethupati, Sanjay Kapoor, Radhika Apte, Tinnu Anand, Pari Maheshwari Sharma, Vinay Pathak, Pratima Kannan, Ashwini Kalsekar, Luke Kenny, Sahil Vaid & others




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