‘Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva’ movie review: Ayan Mukerji’s spectacle lacks a soul – The Hindu

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Ranbir Kapoor in ‘Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva’
Ayan Mukerji’s tale of Indian superheroes mesmerises with the idea, ambition, scale, and visual artwork, but messes it up when it comes to the warp and weft of storytelling. Moreover, it is hard to find the heart of this spectacle, which is buried somewhere deep beneath layers of special effects. It is a shame because Ayan has the budget and some of the brightest actors to deliver the goods. In a film where most of the frames ooze fire, it is disappointing that there are large portions of screen time that leave us cold.
The biggest drawback of the film is its writing. All the hype over Indian mythology is just a cosmetic cover; the makers come across as fanboys of the Marvel universe And, in a double whammy, the link with heritage perhaps restricts them from employing clever twists and self-referential humour.
Instead of digging into the vast stream of Indian stories of gods and their arms, the writers — Ayan and Hussain Dalal — seem to be aiming for an urban teenager who started searching for his cultural roots after 2014, but his reference points are still Captain America and Iron Man. They seem to have missed that while the West had to pad up its superheroes, our gods and their stories have been part of our everyday existence. Dalal’s dialogues are as bland as those found in the dubbed versions of Hollywood films. There are many important scenes about soul searching, self-doubts and self-realisation, but the perfunctory dialogues cannot match the lyrical visual display that keeps you hopeful till the end.  
Set in the contemporary world, the story is about Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor), a musician who grew up in an orphanage. During a Dussehra night, he strikes a chord with Isha (Alia Bhatt). Shiva is troubled by dreams that take him into a parallel universe where a war is going on between guardians of divine weapons and the dark forces. These guardians or Brahmansh have been living around us for centuries. Some of them wield special powers of elements of nature and others can channelise the force of the animals that they represent in adversity, but their biggest duty is to protect the mother of all weapons: the Brahmastra.
News of a purported suicide makes Shiva realise that what he thought of as a handicap is a special gift, and from then on, he is part of an epic battle. As he sets out to seek answers, Ayan unspools a story of love and self-discovery.
The idea leaps at you as Shah Rukh Khan’s cameo as scientist Mohan Bhargava (the character he played in  Swades) literally lifts the spirits and promises an exciting ride into the past and the present, but the love story of the real-life couple Ranbir and Alia, that forms the base, fails to ignite interest.
In the second half, the film once again gets momentum when the cool Guru (Amitabh Bachchan), who runs a school — where the Brahmansh can harness their energy — promises to tell us the raison d’etre for Shiva’s existence, but the charm fizzles out when Ayan chooses to keep the secret of his parents for the second part of the franchise.
The introduction of Dev and Avantika should have added zing to the proceedings, but somehow Ayan feels that two-and-a-half villains are enough to take on the combined superpowers of Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh, Nagarjuna Akinenni and Ranbir for more than 160 minutes.
The idea of creating an ‘Astraverse’ is amazing, but the rules of the game have not been thrashed out. So the intrinsic logic doesn’t always hold. In an evenly-matched contest between two characters with unlimited firepower, one changes tack and suddenly starts showering water to douse the fire of the other! The fear of water for fire is an intelligent tweak, but how one character can harness two elements of nature remains unexplained. There are several other similar scenes that test the limits of suspension of disbelief.
Bachchan looks a bit frail, but is imposing as the rockstar Guru. Nagarjuna, the original Shiva of Hindi cinema, is effective in a small role.
As for Ranbir, the actor aces the initial portions as a lost boy who is struggling to find the larger purpose of his existence, but his transformation into a weapon that generates fire is ho-hum. So is Alia’s character graph; there might be surprises in the future but here the motivations of Isha goes over out head.
Mouni Roy has a face that could belong to any period of human history. However, here as Junoon, the epitome of darkness, she looks more like a cartoon strip character than a realistic danger in flesh and blood.
For a film that aims to break new ground, Pritam’s music is pretty predictable. It suits a rom-com more than a fantasy franchise. Simon Fraglen’s background score is better, but again it is heavily inspired by the Hollywood stuff.
Perhaps, the big boys of Bollywood are missing the plot. They need to combine the courage and the visual flair of an Ayan Mukerji and the research of a Chandra Prakash Dwivedi to come up with something original.
Till then, the result is very much like the broken Brahmastra: the individual pieces have power, but they need to come together to generate any real impact. Waiting for the second instalment!
Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva is currently running in theatres

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