'Brahmastra' review: Visual extravaganza that soars above its glaring flaws
Yes, finally! After several years in the making, Ayan Mukerji's Brahmastra: Part One—Shiva was released on Friday. Starring Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amitabh Bachchan, Nagarjuna, and Mouni Roy, the film is a visual extravaganza from its opening scene till the end credits roll. Though it's mutilated by a half-baked screenplay and cringe dialogues that make you flinch, it eventually salvages itself. Here's our review.
The story follows Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor), who is part of the mysterious Brahmansh, a secret society that has taken care of the different astras in the world over generations. Junoon (Roy), the primary antagonist, is on the quest for the titular Brahmastra. The film, thus, chronicles the head-on battle between good and evil, set in the modern world, and interspersed with Shiva's love story.
There was absolutely no dearth of scenes that made me instantly go, "Wow." If you think the trailer's special effects were stupendous, wait till you watch the many scenes that won't allow you to blink or even move. This fantabulous vision is married with a potent, thumping background score that elevates the screenplay and transports you to a world you've never seen before.
Brahmastra begins with Bachchan's baritone that establishes the premise the plot gradually architects itself on. It feels like surreal poetry in motion and an ambitious ode to the mythology that defines Hindu culture. Moreover, though there's romance at the forefront, sinister evil unfailingly lurks in the background. Not only does it keep the momentum alive, but it also propels your expectations through the roof.
SRK's presence exalts the film several notches higher, and one of my favorite scenes is a montage of him, Kapoor, and Bachchan—three pivotal threads of Brahmastra and also three towering personalities of Indian cinema. There's also a meta SRK reference, look for it!
My biggest surprise (read horror)? The dialogues. Marinated in typical tapori style, they often shake the film's foundation and rob it of gravitas. This becomes acutely aware from one of the first scenes when SRK uses words that make it seem like the dialogue writers were on leave. They reminded me of Hollywood films' Hindi dubbed versions that needlessly inject humor in each line.
Another discernible problem that puts a dent in your experience is the over-usage of "love at first sight," a cinematic technique as old as time. Shiva and Isha's love is a spark that builds up over just two "meetings" and feels juvenile. There are complications even before their love can even bloom, and, at times, it feels like a jolt that thrashes the viewers.
I walked out of the theater thinking about the much-hyped mysterious cameo that hints at the second part's lead Dev, and each scene that surrounds him is awe-inspiring. His character will finally be elaborated upon in the sequel. Can the second part come soon enough?
Brahmastra has surefooted performances from everyone, the time they spend on screen and the number of frames they dominate notwithstanding. From the seemingly ordinary romantic hero to the point where he encounters the villain, you can see Kapoor becoming the vessel that brings Mukerji's brainchild to life. Nagarjuna, who only has selected scenes, channels his protean acting chops. Bhatt simply plays the second fiddle.
I kept waiting for Mouni Roy to appear on screen, such was the appeal and earnestness that she brings to her character. A spectacular, unwavering performance from start to finish, she leverages her screen time masterfully and doesn't disappear in this sea of actors.
The strokes that have painted Brahmastra have Mukerji's vision written all over them. It encapsulates love, emotions, action, violence, death, and is a kaleidoscopic story fueled by jaw-dropping VFX and a potent background score. Mukerji's maverick genius mostly succeeds in achieving the rare fusion of exquisite mythology and modern sensibilities, and even though it falters, the film picks itself up soon enough. Verdict: 3.5/5.