Synopsis – The first installment of India’s first original universe – the Astraverse. It is a new original cinematic universe inspired by deeply rooted concepts and tales in Indian mythology but set in the modern world, with epic storytelling of fantasy, adventure, good vs evil, love and hope.
My Take – Announced almost eight years ago, filmmaker Ayan Mukerji‘s third directorial, following the delightful Wake Up Sid (2009) and much beloved blockbuster Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), has been a long time coming.
With massive delays in shoot and production, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a whopping budget of Rs 410 crore, the film just seemed destined to fail, that too despite its unique blend of Hindu mythology and fantasy elements that serve as the backdrop to a love story, and paired the fandom crazy and now recently married couple Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt together for the first time onscreen. Heavily promoted as the event film of the year, the Karan Johar production is finally out in cinemas in five languages.
Thankfully, the results are way superior than one could have expected. With overtones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe hanging over it, where VFX heavy action sequences and spectacular pyrotechnics take center stage, the Ayan Mukerji directorial is without doubt a solid and satisfying watch that will keep you glued to the screens, and deserves to be applauded for its bold and audacious attempt of introducing Hindi cinema’s first original fantasy universe based on ancient Hindu mythology.
Yes, the story plays out in recognizable spaces, it’s both simple and simplistic in places with the romance between the lead pair being probably the weakest link of the plot despite their committed performances.
However, considering the time and money put into the project, the treatment of the concept, and the grandeur of everything surrounding the characters, the film, which marks the first installment of a planned trilogy and a probable set of spin offs, the overall outcome is a hugely rewarding experience that is rich, soulful and exciting in the way that only comes from seeing the finest crew at work and truly deserves to be enjoyed on the big screen.
The story follows Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor), a regular guy who grew up in an orphanage and works as a DJ, all the while keeping a secret from the world about his special power that makes him immune and akin to fire. However, his life takes a turn when he meets Isha (Alia Bhatt) and immediately falls in love with her. At the same time, he also gets strange visuals about a hidden war raging in the world, witnessing Junoon (Mouni Roy), an evil queen of the darkness, hunting and killing to possess the missing pieces of Brahmastra, a supernatural celestial weapon that contains the ability to unleash unlimited power capable of destroying the universe.
Determined to the stop the dark forces from succeeding, the duo embark on an impromptu adventure, that introduces Shiva to Guru (Amitabh Bachchan), and other members of a secret society called Brahmānsh that has been protecting and channeling different powers of nature for generations. A journey which gradually connects Shiva to the story of his parents that changes the course of his life, placing him right on the path to destroy all evil forces, and discover his true potential.
Though the film starts off as your regular, conventional boy meets girl love saga, it wastes no time in building the actual premise. With comic-book-styled visuals, the film expands upon the origin of its universe in an interesting manner. Yes, with its over-complicated detailing, the film does get a bit convoluted at times but with writer-director Mukerji’s expert handling of the material and ability to whip up rousing moments, the film overcomes even the most clichéd scenarios.
However, the most excellent aspect of the film is how he deftly weaves references from Indian history into his story which is not only full of eye-popping special effects but also equally emotionally rich. He blends both reality and fantasy together into an extraordinary, spellbinding story that is thoroughly captivating.
Steeped in ancient Indian mythology, the film expertly skirts around overt religiosity while stressing on the core concept of a timeless war between light and darkness, between selfless sacrifice and righteousness on one side and personal ambition and destruction on the other. The filmmaker’s sincerity is evident in every frame. Backed by a spectacular production that benefits immensely from the expert VFX work. The crucial action scenes throb with life and deliver their share of excitement as the film is loaded with some of the most stellar VFX work we have seen in Indian cinema.
Throughout its run time, you’re riveted by the action, and by the drama that unfolds on big screen leading to an explosive finale that is filled with a combination of special effects and thrilling in-camera shots. Even though the film had the potential and the room for it, it doesn’t score brownie points for the love story of its lead couple which forms the thrust of the narrative here. While Alia and Ranbir’s youthful earnestness powers the journey, no doubt, aided with some croon worthy numbers.
But their love story peaks at the most inopportune moments in the plot. In fact, it doesn’t seem plausible from the word go which weakens the film at its core in a big way. It leaves us wondering if this is meant to be a fantasy film or a modern day love story of two single attractive people who fall in love at first sight, embark on a cross-country journey hardly 24 hours into the ‘relationship’ and end up making romantic overtures to each other in the midst of some extremely nail biting action sequences.
Nevertheless, the film deserves support mainly because it’s not every day that Hindi cinema churns out a film on this grand scale, with top-class VFX and creates a mystical universe that we only see in the West or somewhere in the south film industry. And given that it’s a planned trilogy, you’d be already left craving for a part two sooner.
Performance wise, Ranbir Kapoor is in excellent form here. His effort to add emotional gravitas to the proceedings is visible. It helps that he is aided by an impressive cast who’re at the top of their game. Alia Bhatt is convincing as Isha and remains an integral force to drive Shiva’s actions. She delivers a restrained performance and never loses her ground. Amitabh Bachchan appears comfortable in the skin of his character, performing action scenes with ease.
Nagarjuna in his limited screen time is quite effective. Mouni Roy is simply terrific and really holds herself in this elaborate cast and effortlessly shines as the nemesis. In an extended cameo, Shah Rukh Khan is completely endearing as expected. On the whole, ‘Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva‘ is a visually feasting, ambitious and entertaining fantasy adventure drama that is thoroughly engrossing and authentically inventive.
Directed – Ayan Mukherjee
Rated – PG
Run Time – 143 minutes