Written and directed by Ayan Mukerji (with dialogues by Hussain Dalal), “Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva” states that the country’s foundation is based on the fact that a group of sages and saints meditated for ages in the holy region of the Himalayas. For that, they were given a boon, i.e., a “Brahma-Shakti” (a power related to the Indian god, Brahma). When this power collided with Earth, it led to the birth of divine “Astras” (weapons) like the “Agnyastra” (fire weapon), “Jalastra” (water weapon), “Vayuastra” (wind weapon), and others that were animal-based. But the Mahastra was also born in a process that was like the third eye of the Indian god, Shiva, and apparently had the powers of creation and destruction. So, the sages and saints decided to contain it in something called the Brahmastra. They pledged allegiance to it, calling their alliance the “Brahmansh,” and passed on their powers and the duty of protecting the pieces of the “Brahmastra” from one generation to another. In the present day, when a villainess called Junoon (Mouni Roy) starts to steal those pieces from its protectors, the power of “Agnyastra” awakens in a DJ called Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor). Oh, and he has a love interest called Isha (Alia Bhatt), who is, weirdly enough, the source of his power and hence, irritatingly tags along throughout the film.
It’s safe to assume that the first question crossing your mind right now is that if the Marvel Cinematic Universe can use Norse and Egyptian mythology as the basis for their superheroes, what’s wrong with an Indian movie doing the same? The answer to that is quite simple. As much as every institution in the country will have you believe that India is defined by its majority community, the truth is far from it. India owes its prosperity to minorities as well, who have contributed so much to building this nation, despite being excluded and ignored. Hence, that gives rise to the counter-question: why should a “way of living” that’s inherently exclusionary in nature be glorified by making it a part of modern pop culture?
All that said, here’s the thing. There’s a way all this could’ve been made palatable with an engaging story and interesting visuals. Ayan Mukerji royally soils the bed with some of the worst writing, some of the worst directorial choices, and some of the worst uses of CGI that I’ve seen in a long time. Let’s start with the writing first. “Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva” is just 2 hours and 47 minutes of relentless exposition. The heroes keep saying that they’ve got to stop the villains from reuniting the pieces of the “Brahmastra,” and the villains keep saying that they’ve got to reunite the pieces of the “Brahmastra” over and over and over again. When they take a break from that, the protagonists explain what we’ve already seen on-screen in a premonition or something that’s so blatantly obvious (like what the powers are or how they work) that it doesn’t need further explanation. And then they resume elucidating the “Astras” again. On top of that, the dialogue is so wooden that it seems like Ayan Mukerji and Hussain Dalal have written them in English and then used Google Translate to turn them into Hindi. People in real life do not talk like the characters do in the film.
Mukerji’s film is full of unintentionally hilarious moments. Like where he names Shah Rukh Khan’s character Mohan Bhargav (as a reference to “Swades”) and then makes Junoon’s henchmen refer to him as “scientist,” as if to ensure that we know that he’s making a pop culture reference; or when he introduces Nagarjuna’s Aneesh Shetty as a restoration architect and then keeps calling him “artist”; or practically everything and anything that Junoon does or says. But the one aspect that clearly takes the cake is where Mukerji makes an attempt to counter all the criticism he has received for basing his previous movies around super-rich protagonists. Here’s what he does. He props up Shiva as a poor guy who lives in a “chawl” and looks after orphans, thereby contrasting heavily with the affluent Isha. And, for a second, it even seems like Mukerji is going to base Shiva’s battle for the “Brahmastra” around this empathetic scenario and against the backdrop of Mumbai. However, as soon as the setting shifts to Varanasi and then to Himachal Pradesh, he chucks this facade of class commentary and humanity down one of the many high places that the characters keep falling off of. Because he wants to talk about the power of love (even though there’s no chemistry between the leads).
Now, let’s come to the much-publicized visuals of “Brahmastra.” Long story short, it’s bad. Long story long, it’s still bad. Credit where credit is due, Double Negative is one of the best VFX companies in the world. Here are some of the projects they’ve worked on: “Mission: Impossible 2”, “Die Another Day,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Batman Begins,” “Casino Royale,” “Children of Men,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army”, “The Dark Knight,” “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” “Blade Runner 2049”, “Dunkirk,” and almost every single Marvel movie since “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” But, as you can see, the results vary from project to project based on the money involved and the creative direction that the one helming it is taking. Ayan Mukerji clearly doesn’t know how to handle VFX, CGI, or SFX. So, naturally, the combined efforts of cinematographers Sudeep Chatterjee, Patrick Duroux, Pankaj Kumar, Manikandan, Vikash Nowlakha, and editor Prakash Kurup fail to conjure a singular, memorable frame. The work by the stunt team is commendable. But the presentation is so lacking in confidence and choppy that CW’s superhero shows start to look far superior to this excuse of a movie. Maybe “Brahmastra” would have benefited from a small screen release. At least the issues wouldn’t have been so visible.
Finally, there’s the star-studded cast, featuring Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amitabh Bachchan, Nagarjuna Akkineni, Mouni Roy, Shah Rukh Khan, Dimple Kapadia, Chaitanya Sharma aka Slow Cheetah, Saurav Gurjar, and more. While I can give the supporting cast a pass, I have to say to the central cast members that they should reconsider their priorities. Because this is embarrassing. Shah Rukh Khan and Nagarjuna’s cameos are wasted. Christopher Nolan used Dimple Kapadia in a more substantial way in “Tenet” than Ayan does in this film. Amitabh Bachchan dumps exposition until his stunt double can take over and do the action scenes. Mouni seems to be stuck in “Naagin” mode. And even though Shiva and Isha keep mentioning how much they love each other, how they can’t live without each other, how they care for each other, and how they are each other’s everything, there’s not a semblance of a spark between Ranbir and Alia. In their individual scenes, Ranbir does a lot. However, he never becomes the character of Shiva. He delivers the lines, shows his muscles, jumps around a bit, and that’s it. Alia is just another exposition machine who walks around looking pretty and, at one point, goes to get Shiva’s clothes while he completes his training montage. If that’s not a sign that Ayan should seriously stop writing female characters, then I don’t know what is.
In conclusion, with “Brahmastra,” Dharma Productions is here to say that, despite taking inspiration from the MCU and the DC Universe, it’s going to do something different. Instead, they’re going to dive headfirst into bigotry and make that the center of their “Astraverse.” If you take a gander through social media and the mainstream news, you’ll see that there’s clearly a demand for this kind of film. So, what’s the harm in capitalizing on this trend, isn’t it? Who needs relevant, relatable, character-driven, and rewatchable movies from Bollywood? Well, even if no one does, I do, and I’ll certainly not be tuning into more pieces of garbage disguised as movies. If you do, please go ahead. If you want more quality fantasy films from Indian cinema, though, then watch stuff like “Tumbbad” and “Minnal Murali” and shout their praises everywhere you can.
“Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva” is a 2022 Indian Action Thriller film directed by Ayan Mukerji.