Sriram Raghavan is considered to be one of the best directors in the Indian film industry. Ek Hasina Thi is nothing short of a classic, and once you watch its ending, it will probably haunt you for the rest of your life. Johnny Gaddaar has become somewhat of a cult classic, and it was definitely responsible for turning a lot of youngsters who were just learning about genres and whatnot into neo-noir fans. While most of the cast of Badlapur was popular for taking on complex roles, the actor that benefited the most from being a part of the film was Varun Dhawan, as Raghavan showed that the nepo-baby was capable of doing more than just flexing his abs. In addition to that, the film was a commercial and critical hit. Andhadhun is simply one of the best movies of all time. However, it’s very important to remember that that same Sriram Raghavan has also made Agent Vinod, which is undoubtedly one of the worst films of all time. With that in mind, let’s talk about Merry Christmas.
Sriram Raghavan’s Merry Christmas (the Hindi version), which he has co-written with Arijit Biswas, Pooja Ladha Surti, and Anukriti Pandey, tells the story of Albert, who has come to Mumbai to live in his late mother’s home. Her neighbor was with her during her last days, and he gave Albert a warm welcome and even told him to have dinner at his house. Since it’s Christmas Eve, Albert decides to go to his favorite places around the city. At the restaurant, he comes across a man in the bathroom who tells him to relay the information to a woman sitting at one of the tables with her daughter that he has left in a hurry. Given how timid he is as a person, Albert does what he is asked. Since he is mesmerized by the woman’s beauty, he starts following her and her daughter as they make their way to the local theater. Under the pretext of helping her and her daughter get to their house, Albert ends up getting a little too comfortable with the woman. However, when the woman’s dead husband appears out of thin air, the date turns into a Christmas nightmare.
On paper, Merry Christmas has a lot of elements. From the opening itself, it’s established that it is the story of two people with dark pasts. Somehow, their paths have crossed, and it remains to be seen if they will help each other out by empathizing with one another’s plight or lead the person in front of them toward more suffering. When it’s time to close the curtains on this story, you do get a conclusion to Albert and Maria’s arcs. But it’s everything that happens in between that seems to be made of a lot of things and nothing at all. Albert’s mother’s neighbor makes his own wine and talks about seizing the moment, and his whole character turns out to be the equivalent of those messages found in a fortune cookie. Albert’s mother is shown to have stashed hundred rupee notes between every page of the Bible, and that’s it; no further exploration. There’s some mention of child abuse and domestic abuse, but that’s about it. There’s a little conversation about police brutality. There’s some stuff about Christianity. A character named Ronnie represents infidelity, and it’s questioned in the most frivolous manner imaginable. The big “twist” in the film is so elaborate that imagining the effort it must’ve taken to pull it off should evoke surprise and awe. Yet, it is glossed over like it is not a big deal. At one point, Albert gets injured, and it’s barely addressed. Hence, by the end, it felt like the writers had a beginning and an ending on their minds, and then they just threw every random brainfart into the mix in the hopes that it’d result in an interesting product. Spoiler alert: it didn’t, in fact, result in an interesting product.
In addition to all that, I think Merry Christmas turned out to be so hollow and borderline predictable because Sriram Raghavan tried so hard to subvert the audience’s expectations that he came full circle and ended up making the blandest narrative choices. With the exception of Agent Vinod, Raghavan’s films have been synonymous with twists that’ll keep you up at night for years. Despite being rooted in the noir genre, his storytelling has always been uniquely Indian. By that, I mean, he never tried to emulate Hollywood and always ensured that the tone of the interactions, the environments the characters inhabited, and the overall atmosphere felt relatable and immersive to make the average film viewer feel that they could be sucked into a gritty, noir-esque story any day as well. And since he had established his style over the course of two decades, I am sure that he knew that audiences were expecting him to do all that yet again. Hence, he did the opposite by making the twists forgettable, by presenting the characters in the most derivative manner possible, and by not imbuing the film with any sense of style. If that was the intention, what should I say? Well done? But why would an acclaimed and celebrated director like him sabotage his own film to make a point about not expecting him to do the unexpected? Honestly, I don’t know, and I am too disappointed to muster the urge to learn what went down during production.
I want to say that the performances in Merry Christmas are its best aspect. But I guess that is the Ewan McGregor effect. What’s the Ewan McGregor effect? For the longest time, the Star Wars prequel trilogy was regarded as the worst thing to exist in the world of entertainment. That said, fans and haters agreed that Ewan McGregor was great. Eventually, people realized that the Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy Award-winning actor seemed so great as Obi-Wan Kenobi because everything around him was awfully bad. So, McGregor doing the bare minimum felt like a breath of fresh air. And, yes, maybe that’s what’s happening in this Sriram Raghavan film too. Katrina Kaif is good. She is hitting her marks. She is emoting. She is creating an air of intrigue around her character. Vijay Sethupathi is good as well. The dialogue written around his character is awful. That’s why he does all the heavy lifting with his oh-so-expressive face. Yes, I am aware of the fact that he has done a silent film called Gandhi Talks, which was released at the IFFI 2023, and that says everything that needs to be said about Vijay’s confidence in his acting prowess. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, I guess. Their performances won’t be memorable, but it’s not bad enough to actively hate on them. All of them partake in a bunch of long takes, which is something that is always worthy of appreciation. Overall, you can say that the cast put up a good show.
Like everyone else on the internet, I was a little frustrated with the release date of Merry Christmas because it’s a movie that has the word “Christmas” in it, the narrative takes place on Christmas Eve, and it was being released in the middle of January. It didn’t make any sense. But as I started to make my way to the theater, I saw a Christmas-themed photo stand on the corner of a street that was obviously set up around Christmas and was collecting all kinds of dirt ever since. As I walked up the stairs of the mall to my screen, I glanced at all the elaborate Christmas decorations that hadn’t been put down because they reminded us of that brief hopeful period of the year while we plunged ourselves into another year (FYI, 2024 is a leap year) of hopelessness. And, to be honest, it seemed quite fitting that a Christmas-themed movie got a January release while being surrounded by the remnants of the festive season that had lost their sheen and should’ve been discarded as soon as December came to a close. Now, whether you want to take that as a warning or as a recommendation, it’s completely up to you.