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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Brahmastra Review: Cultural, Super-Heroic Triumph For Indian Cinema

Brahmastra‘s release date was a myth for the longest amount of time. After years in the making, the movie finally sees the light of day. Being the most anticipated movie of 2022, both excitement and curiosity have increased among audiences. Bollywood is currently going through immense scrutiny where big movies have bit the dust due to several lacklustre contents. At such a time, a title of this nature carries responsibility. Some even believe it to be a sink or swim situation for Hindi cinema.

The narrative context is based on ancient times, sages meditated in the Himalayas to attain superpowers based on four elements: fire, wind, water, and earth. As well as elements from plants and animals to create unique weapons (known as ‘astras’). These sages form the ‘Brahmansh’ – a universe where they use these newly acquired weapons to protect the world. One of the strongest astras originates from light, which has enough power to destroy the world. Yet, the Brahamastra now exists in three parts. Each is being protected by a key leader of ‘Brahmansh’, a secret group of people who wield superpowers when needed to combat evil.

Cut to the modern day, meet Shiva (Kapoor), a DJ in Mumbai. He has lived a good life mostly despite the odds against him. An orphan who has lived a life on his own terms, he meets Isha (Alia Bhatt) during a Dushera Carnival and instantly falls in love. But his love life is haunted by flashes and nightmares of his horrific past. This involves finding out about his mother’s death. He even finds himself hunted by Junoon (Mouni Roy) – queen of the dark force – and her men in search of a broken rock piece which belongs to the Brahmastra.

The ones who are hunted are important pivotal figures in society. A scientist (Shah Rukh Khan) who is blessed with the Varanastra. Shiva foresees a similar pattern for Benaras-based archaeologist – who possesses the Nandi Astra (Nagarjuna) and decides to go to Varanasi along with Isha in order to warn him before Junoon and her men reach him.

Ayan Mukerji’s self-discovery theme has always struck a chord with audiences. We had been missing his youthful take on such a concept for a while. So it is a breath of fresh air to revisit his profound but uplifting world. His previous works’ romance has always been natural and the stories are equally soothing. Here, though, the love track is tepid and lacks depth. The dialogues too seem amateurish and indulge in body-shaming and class-shaming too. Such tropes serve as a disservice to the novelty of a movie like this.

The second half is a major turnaround for the picture. It is engaging and an absolute visual treat. When it comes to fantasy, we all have been awed by the magic created in international titles like Star Wars or Harry Potter. Of course, then there are also the Marvel flicks. Brahmastra, to an extent, is a love letter to all these movies. But it delves into Hindu history and adapting to contemporary times which is a concept one cherishes.

It tackles a subject that previous ambitious projects such as Rudraksh and Drona tried to explore. It’s introspective that titles like this and the recent Kartikeya 2 serve justice to our cultural legacy. Using the significance of various astras, Mukerji and the team create our very own superheroes. The action scenes are outstanding, to say the least.

Major credit goes to Double Negative Visual Effects (DNEG) for the spectacular VFX. The same agency has worked on some major titles like Avengers and Aladdin. The visual effects here are splendid and do justice to the vision and scale of Brahmastra. I felt so proud to see an Indian movie be so technically rich and create visuals which we have seen abroad. Simon Franglen’s score is enchanting and soul-stirring. The usage of Sanskrit shlokas to glorify good over evil forces is empowering. The music truly uplifts visual tropes and keeps audiences glued to their seats. Pritam’s ‘Kesariya’ and ‘Deva Deva’ are chartbusters but I wish there was a better dance number. The soundtrack is okay.

Whilst watching the film, I got so excited to see so many major stars assemble for a film. Ranbir is in his element of playing the ‘self-discovering’ youth. He is his usual best on screen and does a good job. Amitabh Bachchan’s gravitas is felt the moment one sees him. Kapoor and Bachchan’s Guru-Shishya duo reminds me of Harry and Dumbledore. Their bond is warm and I wanted to see more of it.

Bhatt, who gave a dynamite performance in Gangubai earlier this year, is given limited scope here. Despite being a  strength, she is shown to be a damsel-in-distress who screams ‘Shiva’ when she is in trouble. Perhaps this is due to the fact certain quotients were shot during Alia’s early stages as an actor. It would have been better if writers penned a much more extensive role and one hopes that future instalments will be more effective.

Similar can be said for a legend like Dimple Kapadia. We catch a glimpse of her in passing scenes as a member of the Brahmansh sect. Again, a great actor is given a less-prominent role. But since this is a three-part franchise, we hope to see her have longer screen time. I just wish her character and other members of the Brahmansh community got a proper character arc. Nagarjuna and SRK’s appearances are satisfying.

The real show-stealer is Mouni Roy. The actor carries her role formidably as the villainous Junoon. Her expressive eyes and facial expressions entice you. A fantastic role portrayed diligently and with sheer dynamite. Roy has a solid screen presence and great to see her nail such an opportunity. We also catch a glimpse of Jal Devi and Brahm Dev… Speculations and observations are already being drawn on social media!

For many years now, we all have been yearning for our own superhero universe. Brahmastra is certainly a great step in that direction. Though I feel going forward, the script needs to equally match the calibre of the movie’s scale and canvas. Cringe dialogues and forced narratives MUST be omitted. It is time that makers feel more confident in this product because they have a winner on their hands. To see Indian cinema incorporate international-level VFX and visual effects is a great step forward for the industry. Worth a watch.

⭐⭐⭐.5 (3.5/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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