Brahmastra movie review: Despite its razzle-dazzle, Ranbir Kapoor-Alia Bhatt film fails to entertain

Part fantasy, part mythological, part action-adventure, part desi superhero saga, there’s a lot going on in ‘Brahmastra Part One-Shiva’, Ayan Mukerji’s long-in-the-making mega tentpole which is meant to be a trilogy. It has been in the news for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because it is meant not just to entertain us, but to pull Bollywood out of the doldrums it is in right now. On the first count, at least, it flubs massively.

Here’s how the promise, held out by this much-anticipated Dharma production, stacked up. Never-seen-before-special effects. There’s no disputing that claim. I can only think of SS Rajamouli’s ‘Bahubali’ which can compare. One of Bollywood’s most winsome couples, both on and off screen, Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Bookended by the surprise presence of Shah Rukh Khan and the one and only Amitabh Bachchan, and a middle lifted by the affable Nagarjuna. Could anything be better? Turns out, it could have, and should have, but it isn’t.

Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) is a modern-day deejay, getting thousands upon thousands of Durga pooja devotees to dance to his tunes, as the film opens. Everything is big, and it becomes bigger and bigger, as the film goes on. The pandal is huge, and as the camera pulls back, the extent of its staggering size becomes apparent. The screen is drenched in colour, song and dance. And then comes the meeting of eyes-and-heart of our hero and his love, Isha (Alia Bhatt), and, and… our heart doesn’t skip a beat, even as the beats around the two get more and more frenetic.

And that truly is the problem with the film, which is meant to be the most expensive Bollywood has produced. Despite all those non-stop computer graphics, the opulence of the sets, the starry array, the film’s commitment to its razzle dazzle, we never really buy into it completely. I had to work hard to fall into it, and I kept falling out of it. Straight up you can see why: the film gets imprisoned in clunky writing which leads to confused patches, and its uneasy tone switches, which never lets the film settle. Why is there a ‘tapori’ element to Shiva’s dialogues to start with, and where does it go? Why do his BFFs disappear without giving us a reason? If the bad guys have super powers, why do they use man-made machine guns? Why does some of the humour appear forced? Questions, questions. And oh those on-the-nose product placements, which includes Mac laptops and Jio cellphones. Really?

Shiva is meant to be an orphan whose origins are tied to the ‘astraverse’ that Mukerji has created. Once upon a time, the weapon of all weapons, the Brahmastra was divided into three for safe-keeping, and its custodians charged with keeping the universe in place. But along comes an ambitious being who wants it all, and who unleashes his dark forces upon our world. The target is, naturally, our hero Shiva and Isha, another name for his faithful Parvati, and a small subsect of people (Brahmansh) quietly residing in the high reaches of the Himalayas, as defenders of the faith, and warriors armed with weapons with primal powers. Shiva has a strange connection with fire (agni): will he be able to save the world from the marauders, led by the hot-eyed, red-lipped Junoon (Mouni Roy, who marches through the film in black robes, glint-eyed and growly) and her two henchmen?

There are enough bones here for our own Marvel universe, suffused with the gods and goddesses borrowed from our vibrant, rich mythologies, and the very special humans with super powers that they must learn to control and unleash. One of the better portions involves Shiva being put through his paces by the elder Guru (Amitabh Bachchan), as he (Shiva) plays, literally, with fire, and the screen lights up. Ranbir Kapoor is, always light on his feet. The luminous Alia Bhatt does some lighting up of her own. He says: ‘jal gayi tum mere pyaar mein’ (hard to translate this, but the closest would be ‘you’re burning with love for me’), and she says : ‘kabki’ (long back), and you smile past the cheesiness of the exchange, remembering their real-life romance which seeps into their reels, on and off. In his cameo, Shah Rukh Khan (his name, we are told pointedly, is Mohan Bhargav, in a nod to his ‘Swades’ character?) brings some of his goofy charm to the table. But, ultimately, these do not become characters that we care for, as they run for their lives in a climax that goes on for so long that it becomes exhausting.

Films so stuffed with special effects need to maintain a balance between parts which are meant to blow us away with their wares, and the parts which allow it to slow down and breathe. The VFX is non-stop (at one point, a troll-like army appears, and disappears), the blaring music keeps wanting to bludgeon us into submission, and we are left yearning for magic.

A character asks Shiva, ‘yeh sab kya ho raha hai tumhare saath’ (what is going on with you’?). Replace ‘humaare’ with ‘tumhaare’, for the right question.

Brahmastra movie cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amitabh Bachchan, Mouni Roy, Nagarjuna Akkineni
Brahmastra movie director: Ayan Mukerji
Brahastra movie rating: 1.5 stars

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