The Ayan Mukherjee directorial, Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva, is finally out for the Indian audience to devour as the long awaited Indian superhero movie that it tries to be. Casting an ensemble of actors, producing on one of the highest budgets for a Bollywood film, and a project that took over five years to develop into the very first part of a trilogy, Brahmastra holds a tonne of expectation on its back. The movie, written by Ayan Mukerji himself along with co-writer Hussain Dalal, revolves around the quintessential mythical weapon called Brahmastra and a society of Rishis called Brahmansh who have vowed to protect it from the evil in this world. Some selected people that are given the boon of Astras use it to enhance the power that comes with it.

The movie opens itself like a comic book (our very own Amar Chitra Katha) wherein it sets the premise to what this whole Astraverse is about and thereafter taking us right to the perfect (superstar) cameo. We are soon presented with the sight of Ranbir Kapoor as Shiva, a DJ who gets inexplicably drawn to the beauty of Isha played by Alia Bhatt. Their love story unfolds in ways that propel the story forward. Shiva has a bond with fire that he is only half aware of and seems to get visions of the supernatural elements far beyond his comprehension yet, and the impending doom. It isn’t very openly discussed why it is only Shiva that gets these visions and no one else but it might be for the other two parts to unravel for us. The movie also casts the beautiful, the mighty, Nagarjuna in a relatively smaller yet important role, as he wins hearts with his performance. It is his part that comes out as the most powerful from the entire movie due to sheer talent of acting that Nagarjuna holds in his eyes, the strength in his Nandi Astra backed by the power of a thousand Nandis and the beauty of VFX that binds it all together. In the second half, we meet Amitabh Bachchan as the Guru of Brahmansh wherein we learn more mechanics of the workings of the world. The movie also stars Mouni Roy as Junoon, the Queen of Darkness, and a follower of some dark leader which is revealed later in the film. She plays a typical Bollywood villain who wears all black with the overuse of kohl in her makeup. Regardless, she presents her anto-heroic character with grace and power and almost makes the audience hate her for her evil deeds –which is the reward of enacting an excellent villain. The movie casts many more actors and gives us blurry glimpses of those who will be a part of the upcoming two sequels.

The direction by Ayan is daring. It is clear that he has a vision for retelling the Hindu Mythology with relevant flair of modernisation. Unfortunately, in this vast astraverse, borrowing from what’s come before while nodding onto several other influences that he’s had as a storyteller, he himself seems lost in direction sometimes. A few parts in the movie’s story are left unexplained; the massive character lapses never truly make us root for them, as the film tries to jolt us into submission with its unnecessarily loud score. Conflicts aren’t always needed to make sense as long as a fantasy drama stays true to its world building, but the editing here never lets you absorb in the vibrant landscape, let alone the mechanics of the world. It is also possible that the director and writers assumed the audience would be aware of more than what is on-screen, but in a movie that keeps guiding us through its heavy exposition could have given us more relevance to magic and the logic behind the powers. The songs are a delight to the ears; the voice and music by Arijit and Pritam elevates nine fold especially in a theatrical experience. Ranbir Kapoor’s dancing on the party songs of Brahmāstra is uplifting in more ways than one. The background score too is heavenly quite literally and very tasteful in terms of backing scenes and the metaphors they hold. Although, sometimes, it is louder than necessary.

Cinematography by the team partnered with the Visual Effects Team makes the experience as magical as the concept demands it to be. The continuous movements of colour, rays, light make Brahmāstra a sight to behold but this sight sadly is continuously unwrapping itself. The movie paces very fast which it could have worked on. With visuals as pleasing as it has, the audience is not given too much time to experience a single thing as the screenplay rushes too fast. It leaves the audiences yearning for more of the same visuals because of the same reason. The most underwhelming and displeasing parts of Brahmāstra are the dialogue writing and delivery. Things are made so overtly accessible that it all rather comes across as foolishly childish; the movie keeps addressing important characters from the names of their professions rather than their actual names. Everything is over explained by Shiva to Isha and the audience too. Supporting characters (not much differently treated than the leads) spontaneously erupt into asking robotic questions. Isha is only either asking questions or calling out for Shiva, quite literally shouting out his name. Guru speaks in slow metaphors. The supporting cast of friends and cousins have the worst dialogues. The movie does speak in metaphors both figuratively and literally but even that takes a backseat when the dialogue delivery becomes trash and oversimplified. Even the chemistry between the protagonist and Isha does not affect the audience as it should, keeping in mind the movie is about love and the strength it creates. Isha’s character traits of being the typical helper of the hero also dulls down the experience as opposed to if she was shown more feminist even as a normal being. The movie builds the movie scene by scene until the end only to give a shorthand conclusion and make the audience wish for more.

Brahmāstra leaves the audience with many open-ended subplots which it should as it has two more installments to deliver the gross production of Ayan’s Astraverse. Made on a humongous budget, we see a beautiful and tech-driven India as well as too much VFX. There is an intense delight to watch Mumbai and Varanasi in its colourful glory and nightlife. There are parts of the film which duplicate from movies that have already been made and Indian-ised at the same time. As a viewer of Marvel and Disney, few references become obvious. A character and his home is shown very similar to that of Marvel’s Tony Stark and his tower; another resembles Hawkeye. Nonetheless, these overlaps are not a problem. Rather, it is a beauty to watch modern India in colour and light. Some may say that there is too much VFX produced magic everywhere but that is how magic-driven superhero movies are made. The plot could have layered better to back the magic that’s happening in the film.

The performances hold a special place in this movie. Every actor is so engrossed in their character and delivers with such precision that one sees a clear picture of how much effort the whole team of Brahmastra has put in and the film does get extra credit just for this effort. The fight sequences are well done. The last fight could have taken the screenplay up a notch but instead leaves us wanting more. Yet, it is a wonder that this franchise being filled with a cast so wide did not disappoint as much. It at least delivers upon the spectacle aspect of whatever the marketing seemed to promise. It definitely is not everything we ask for but remains an ambition set up to our homegrown Indian trilogy that we needed in Bollywood after being a billion avid watchers of superheroes and mythologies. One should definitely watch it once and look forward to the trilogy if you are a fan of mythologies, magic, superheroes and grandiose spectacle.


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