There is a kind of audacious large-scale experimentation which is admirable, even if the novelty and potential of the idea are not fully realised, notes Deepa Gahlot.
Sometimes, it might just be better to release a film without so much publicity that the sense of wonder that ought to arise when the lights in the cinema hall go on is erased.
The audience goes in with social media opinions and memes already playing in their heads.
Then, they want to be reassured that the opinion they have formed will be confirmed or changed, as the case may be.
The film-maker is supposed to meet the expectations built up, that’s part of the job, but it puts an additional and unfair burden on them to, ironically, also wipe that slate so that the experience of watching a film is fresh.
The sad fact is that very few films live up to the hype.
Brahmastra Part 1 Shiva, written and directed by Ayan Mukerji, is a high concept blend of mythology and fantasy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which indicates grand ambition.
As an aside, the Hindi film industry objects to being called Bollywood but remains deferential to and derivative of Hollywood, so this masala mix is called the Astraverse, and there are nods to superhero films from the US, as well as popular Hindi cinema.
No expense has been spared on the visual effects, but, as is so often the case with mainstream cinema, not enough on the writing.
A bit of annoyance sets soon into the film when the protagonist, Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) is seen looking after a bunch of precocious orphans, who are left behind as things proceed, so why bother with this Mr India track?
The romance with Isha (Alia Bhatt) starts with the poor guy falling in love with a London heiress at first glance, some quick stalking, jumping over rooftops and Shiva having a scary psychotic episode.
Far from being alarmed, she is willing to go with him to Varanasi because of a vision he had about an artist (Nagarjuna) who lives there, just like he did about a scientist (Shah Rukh Khan, named after his Swades character) the night before.
These two characters are comically called ‘scientist’ and ‘artist’ even by asura-like characters, led by a red-eyed tattooed woman called Junoon (Mouni Roy), who arrive from God-knows-where to hunt for pieces of the mythical weapon, the Brahmastra. (The dialogue writer never heard the words ‘vaigyanik’ or ‘kalakaar’?)
A voiceover has already revealed that there are earthly protectors of various divine astras (weapons), the most powerful of which is the super-destructive Brahmastra.
These people called Brahmansh have superpowers, so it is odd that two of them are so easily overpowered by those two-bit minions — after two truly magnificent VFX sequences — when it might have been more fun to create an army of indigenous superheroes inspired by Indian deities.
The film is as remarkable visually as it is unimaginative in its plotting.
Shiva and Isha’s destination is the Himalayan ashram of the guru (Amitabh Bachchan) of the Brahmansh sect. The baddies, in search of the three pieces of the Brahmastra are also looking for this hideout, which they cannot find with all their powers, plus GPS plus Google maps!
In the ashram, the guru has an X-Men-like menagerie of kids with superpowers (a few sound-and-light laser show kind of sequences), and a bunch of senior citizens who vanish soon after they are introduced, along with another female star, who will hopefully have more to do in the planned sequel.
There is a smattering of ideas throughout the film that somehow do not come together as a satisfying whole.
The visuals are spectacular, without a doubt, and achieved with probably a fraction of the budget a Marvel movie spends, even though the pyrotechnics are often overdone with a kid-in-toy-shop glee of throwing as much fire and noise into the cauldron.
But without the glue of coherent writing supporting the VFX wizardry, it is about as effective as a fairground fireworks display most of the time.
Some sequences do stand out, however, like the playing-with-fire when Shiva finally understands how to unleash his superpower. (Isha is supposedly the ‘button’) When the VFX takes a break, the quiet scenes of expository conversations between characters seem tame, with insipid dialogue.
After all the time, effort and money poured into it, Brahmastra Part 1 does not even manage a big bang climax, perhaps saving it for the two promised sequels. It may not have been such a wise decision because this film wraps up disappointingly.
The actors do their best with whatever they are allotted — a lot of screaming in front of green screens involved.
The film achieves neither the spiritual strength of mythology nor the enjoyable adventurous ride of a superhero movie. It just seems like a lot of slog for so little impact in the end.
Still, there is a kind of audacious large-scale experimentation which is admirable, even if the novelty and potential of the idea are not fully realised.
Maybe next time…
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