When Ranbir Kapoor’s Shiva meets Alia Bhatt’s Isha for the first time, the latter asks “Kaun ho tum (Who are you)?”, to which the former replies, “Kya ho tum (What are you)?” And that’s a pretty apt question that the viewers need to ask the film as a whole: WHAT are you?!
A big-budget mess, that is what Brahmastra: Part One - Shiva is.
After a decade of production delays, VFX work, and changing DOPs, a lot was riding on Brahmastra (a budget of Rs 410 crore, and Ranbir Kapoor's career, to be precise). But perhaps the only good thing that came out of the film was Ranbir and Alia’s relationship (at least for the fan pages that stan the couple, even christening them “RaLia”).
Right from when the trailer dropped, audiences jumped to compare the VFX-heavy fantasy drama with other Hollywood superhero and fantasy franchises. Of course, the effects can’t match Western standards or even arguably a recent hit like RRR but that seems to be the least of the concerns over here.
Clocking a runtime of 2 hours and 47 minutes, Brahmastra is ultimately weighed down by an overlong story, cringe-inducing dialogues, and an ultimate sense of pointlessness. Ayan Mukerji’s plans of creating an Astraverse might offer hope to some Indian cinephiles who might dream of their own Marvel Cinematic Universe one day. However, by the end of the film, when Dev - Part Two is teased, you might just sigh with your inner voice saying, “Not again”.
The plot and unintentional influences for 'the hero's journey': As seen in the trailers and promos, Brahmastra is set in a world filled with several astras (weapons) from Hindu mythology. While each astra has its own power, they can be no match to the Brahmastra, a weapon that has been fragmented into three parts and scattered all over the country. Amitabh Bachchan’s Guruji leads a secret society protecting the astras attempt to find the pieces and keep the Brahmastra in safe hands. Meanwhile, Mouni Roy’s antagonist Junoon serves an evil master and wishes to assemble the Brahmastra to resurrect him.
If you are a Potterhead, think of Mouni Roy as a Death Eater bringing Voldemort back from the dead. Or if you are a Marvel fan, think of her as one of Thanos’s minions searching for the Infinity Stones. But derivative influences are bound to arise in any fantasy film.
Joseph Campbell's monomyth/hero's journey was traditionally at the core of almost every adventure story, but it's been repeated so often that it's become a formulaic film cliche. #thechosenone #thekeytoallthis pic.twitter.com/oBYMB2Geir— Jim Maxwell (@1jcmaxwell) August 6, 2019
So, Shiva’s evolution from a happy-go-lucky DJ to an emotional world saviour is reminiscent of ‘the hero’s journey’ trope that we have seen happen with Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), and many more heroes. Amitabh’s mentor figure similarly evokes the mannerisms of Dumbledore, Gandalf, or Obi-Wan Kenobi. These just seem like intentional or unintentional nods to general pop culture while building an original mythos.
All of this could have been better appreciated if we did not have to sit through the soulless and rather forced love angle between Shiva and Isha. What was supposed to be the strength of this RaLia-starrer eventually becomes one of its worst aspects, as many would agree.
The romance is cringe-inducing, random, and somewhat creepy: Shiva, a DJ who lives in a basti taking care of orphaned children, catches a glimpse of Isha one day. He knows the NRI Isha is out of his league but he confidently asserts that she’s the one for him (even though they haven’t even exchanged a word yet). A few weeks later, he finds her again and this time chases her like a creepy stranger.
And then the famous (or rather infamous) dialogue exchange takes place.
“Kaun ho tum?”
“Kya ho tum?”
That’s not the end of it as Shiva doesn’t even bother asking her name. Instead, he tells her straight on the face that she’s very beautiful and he needs her number. Guess Ranbir is still not out of his “I love you. Girlfriend banja meri?” phase from Rockstar.
While Isha laughingly calls him a stalker, she also instantly gets impressed by his eccentricities. A few scenes later, she finds him celebrating an orphan girl’s birthday and that is enough for Isha to realise that she’s in love with this stranger. It seems like director Ayan Mukerji wanted a modern approach for the visual effects and a totally old-school, filmy, unrealistic touch for the screenplay.
The cringe-worthy interactions between the two are so many that they deserve an entirely different article. But take a few examples for context.
As Shiva is an orphan, he doesn’t carry a surname. He adds that he would love to add the surname of his future wife. And then without wasting a second, he grinningly asks Isha “What’s your surname?” Mind you, this happens just minutes after they first meet.
Then when the whole astra angle finally starts building momentum and Shiva realises that he has to valiantly fight off evil forces, Isha decides to join him. Even though Isha doesn’t have any “astra powers” in particular, she obviously wants to be the hero’s emotional support. If Isha said that directly, that would have still been understandable. Instead, Alia looks Ranbir in the eye and says that Isha is another name of the God Shiva’s wife Parvati... and that’s why Parvati always needs to be by Shiva’s side.
And you thought Kesariya’s “love storiyan” line was bad?
The fan-made gems that should not get lost among the memes you made for ‘love storiyaan’ #Brahmastra pic.twitter.com/Ud2OTCg9Iz— BRAHMĀSTRA (@BrahmastraFilm) July 18, 2022
The dialogues suffer from exposition, stating obvious facts in a kiddish manner: While Ayan Mukerji wrote and conceptualised the whole story, it is his Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani collaborator Hussain Dalal who pens the dialogues. I don’t know if RRR will represent India at the Oscars this year but Brahmastra and its screenplay should definitely get a shot at the Razzies.
Apart from the Ranbir-Alia cringe, the dialogues suffer a lot from exposition. The writer thinks it’s his job to explain every little thing that is happening on screen, dumbing it down to the most extreme levels possible. For instance, Nagarjuna’s character stands in the middle of a road, wielding a weapon and carrying rage in his eyes. Mouni Roy and her henchman are in a truck headed on the same path. The henchman says, “Lagta hai woh ladna chahta hai (looks like he wants to fight).” Sigh.
Ranbir and Co. deliver unmemorable acting performances: Coming to the performances, Ranbir brings no new astras in the acting department. He is introduced as the dance-y lover boy that he has played in many other (arguably better) films. As the narrative gets more serious, Ranbir tries to capture the hero’s journey but isn’t able to stand out. But then again, nobody really stands out in Brahmastra.
After delivering one of her career-best performances in Gangubai Kathiawadi and being mentioned on every Koffee With Karan episode, Alia Bhatt disappoints as Isha. But the fault lies more in her characterisation, which, more often than not reduces her to just the hero’s cheerleader or damsel in distress.
Amitabh Bachchan is constantly in his “oratory voice mode”, acting like he has to recite the Agneepath poem in every scene. Bachchan must understand that sounding melodramatic in his throaty voice can be quite annoying, especially in a loud film like this where every astra gets its own grandiose, high-decibel theme song.
Nagarjuna owns his role for the limited screentime he gets, while Mouni Roy tries her best to seem haunting as Brahmastra’s villain. Instead, she and her VFX-heavy scenes make Brahmastra look like some sort of Naagin spin-off.
Scarlett witch + Nagin = Mouni Roy In #Brahmastra#Mouniroy #RanbirKapoor #SSRajamouli pic.twitter.com/XFlz2bBgDT— Idle Bulb 💡 (@Idle_Bulb) May 31, 2022
So, does Brahmastra have any redeeming elements? The second half’s action scenes aren’t that bad and the VFX work is great by B-Town standards (but still not worth spending money for in an IMAX 3D format). But the first half and the overlong story would weigh down on audiences so much that the redeeming elements also don’t seem that redeeming.
In one scene, the protagonists are discussing the titular weapon, saying that “yeh normal logo ke samajh ke bahar hai (normal people can’t understand this).” The irony isn’t lost on us.
We're going with 1 out of 5 for Brahmastra: Part One.