Merry Christmas promises twists and thrills, Raghavan style

Ramesh Taurani, Sriram Raghavan, Katrina Kaif, Vijay Sethupati, Sanjay Kapoor and Sanjay Routray at the Merry Christmas press conference. Photo: Universal Communications

The press conference for Merry Christmas was the first film event of the year, and right at the entrance to the PVR auditorium, I asked Tips Films supremo and co-producer Ramesh Taurani, an old friend, why a film like Merry Christmas was not released by them in Christmas week.

“There were two big films in that week!” he replied with a benign smile. “We would not have got the right number of screens and shows.” Quite a valid reason indeed for a content-heavy Sriram Raghavan (Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddaar, Badlapur and AndhaDhun) thriller, because his films tend to be an overall feast for the soul in their unique and thrilling (pun intended!) ways.

The event was also attended by leading lady Katrina Kaif, leading man Vijay Sethupati, co-producers Sanjay Routray and Kewal Garg of Matchbox Pictures, Sanjay Kapoor, who plays a key role, lyricist Varun Grover, editor and co-writer Pooja Ladha Surti and Ramesh Taurani’s son, Girish Taurani.

The film also stars Ashwini Kalsekar and Radhika Apte and has been actually shot in two versions—Hindi and Tamil. Sriram himself is a Tamilian, who has spent years in Pune in Maharashtra. The trailers, again separately made in the two languages, whetted the appetite of the audience and Vijay revealed that Sriram always gave only a concise narration of his film to his cast—of just around 15 to 20 minutes! The whole script was never revealed. Sriram added that his story was narrated on Zoom and Vijay signed on the latter’s birthday on January 16, 2021.

The film is set in the 1980s in Mumbai, a period that has been painstakingly depicted in authentic manner, and I asked Sriram during the media interaction whether Mumbai will be as much a character in the film as Pune had been in both his earlier movies.

He nodded and replied, “I wanted to base this film also in Pune, but we began the shoot just after the endemic and I could not get the real houses and locations I wanted. (The filmmaker always shoots as far as possible in real houses). So I decided to shoot in Mumbai. We had to make special efforts to create the look of the city in the 1980s.”

Katrina Kaif revealed that working for Sriram had always been in her bucket-list and that the filmmaker’s week-long workshop between Vijay, Sriram himself and her was not only a novel experience but also ensured that the film emerged as a very special film for her.

I asked her how different it felt doing a Sriram Raghavan film, which tends to very personalized in character and content, vis-à-vis a typical entertainer in which she is just a pretty heroine and a role like in Tiger 3, which has action and is also a reprise of a character done before.

The Merry Christmas team on stage at the press conference. From left: Kewal Garg, Girish Taurani, Ramesh Taurani, Sriram Raghavan, Katrina Kaif, Vijay Sethupati, Sanjay Kapoor, Varun Grover, Sanjay Routray and Pooja Ladha Surti. Photo: Rajiv VIjayakar

Terming her Tiger 3 role “nuanced”, she replied that when Sriram made her understand her character, Maria, he also asked her to think of her back-story, and imagine what kind of a life Maria must have led to make her what she was now. This was a first kind of experience for her, she said.

Vijay coated a lot of his answers with cute wit, even stating that he loved playing the baddie (as in Jawan) as he could do all the bad things on screen that he could not do in real life and got vicarious satisfaction from them! He lauded Katrina’s staying power by stating that she had lasted so long (after a 2005 debut) not because of her looks but because of her sensitivity and sense.

Sanjay Kapoor quipped, “All the food is eaten by Boney (Kapoor) and Anil (Kapoor)!” when asked the reason for his looking fresher and younger over the 19 years he has been in the industry. He appreciated the fact that the OTT platform had given him good work too in recent times.

An interesting revelation came from Ramesh Taurani—that he would have been one of the co-producers of AndhaDhun too had certain reasons not come in the way.

As far as Sriram’s content goes, his thrillers are not usually a whodunit issue but either a ‘howdunit’ or what happens in the twisted saga even if we know who is the culprit or perpetrator. As producer Sanjay Routray stated, the fact that it was a Sriram Raghavan film was enough for them to come on board.

The film has music by Pritam, and lyricist Varun Grover stated that this was a major reason he was ecstatic about coming on board. “I was getting a full film with him, though I just had a single song to write in Dunki,” he revealed. The song, Nazar teri toofan, sung by Papon, was also showcased at the event.

Interestingly, Pritam returns to a Tips film after Naqaab, Kismat Konnection, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Race, Toh Baat Pakki, Phata Poster Nikkla Hero and Race 2 and to a Sriram Raghavan film after Agent Vinod. And very interestingly, Agent Vinod remains the only film of the director where he was out of his special forte—the 2012 mega-budget action thriller had been a disaster, though its music had been a huge hit.




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