‘Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva’ Review: A Dense Start to a Promising Trilogy

A science-fiction fantasy and classic Bollywood romance are woven together by mystic powers (and Amitabh Bachchan).

Superhero movies and romantic comedies agree: love is the most powerful force in the universe. It compels venerable heroes as well as wayward lovers, reestablishes moral direction and purifies the soul. This is the ethos behind “Brahmastra Part One: Shiva”, the first installment in director Ayan Mukerji’s Bollywood trilogy. The film is both science-fiction/fantasy and a Bollywood romance, an ambitious introduction to a mythical cinematic universe with the expected hiccups of building a vast world from scratch. This is a commendable effort and a unique theatrical experience for any Bollywood fan.

“Shiva” sets up Mukerji’s “Astraverse” saga, in which a group of humans preserve the sacred light of the universe in its various forms, called astras: water, earth, air, and the film’s fire – but not animals. Powers too, such as the bull or the monkey. Brahmastra is the last of all these energies, the essence of all of them is divided into three parts and set aside to ensure the safety of the world. This and other weapons are assigned and kept secret by an Illuminati-esque group called the Brahmins.

The film explains it all over the top (though best because it’s narrated by Bollywood’s biggest superstar Amitabh Bachchan), but too quickly; After the introductory sequence we move on to Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor), the simple-yet-extraordinary protagonist of the story, and for the next hour he and we need to think of anything trivial as weapons that can save the world. No, because there’s a girl.

Shiva falls hard and fast for Isha (Alia Bhatt) as neither she nor the film can quite articulate. The couple’s on-screen debut in real life doesn’t translate into the best of career chemistry for the two (which is fine and normal and actually speaks well of their acting abilities with other scene partners). A lot of “Brahmastra” hinges on the notion that Shiva and Isha’s relationship is as powerful as any astra, but it seems that two people watching a lot more Bollywood movies than two people falling in love and For luck is less than two people who understand coincidence. When Shiva begins to experience a disturbing vision and power that manifests to him in the form of a fire weapon, Isha joins him to find out what it means.

On paper, “Brahmastra” is clearly not a Hindu film. The idea of ​​astras is rooted in Hindu mythology, but has been changed for Mukherjee’s vision. The film is still filled with Hindu imagery and themes: the name Isha is a form of Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva; Sanskrit mantras and song lyrics; Image of Isha and Shiva walking around the fire (part of the Hindu wedding ceremony); The characters regularly offer prayers and celebrate the Hindu festivals of Dussehra, Durga Puja and Kali Puja. Only villains have no apparent religion.

But the central themes – the coexistence of light and darkness, and the victory of good over evil – are universal. They’re as intrinsic to Hindu texts as Harry Potter, “Lord of the Rings,” Star Wars, “Avatar: The Last Airbender”—any sci-fi fantasy epic you can name that “Brahmastra” at a point. But will it be the same or another.

Sadly, the film’s godless villains are painfully flat. Their leader is Junoon (Mouni Roy), whose complete identity is her red hair and coal black eyeshadow. A villain could be a quintessential performance for any female actor, but not so clearly underwritten and performed (the eyeshadow above is doing most of the heavy lifting). Junoon’s wasting ability is a shame, and the irony is how well she could have played into the hands of someone like Bhatt herself.

As much as the film tries to elevate Shiva and Isha, the latter is criminally underestimated. This is a step up from most portrayals of romantic interest in a superhero film, but is disappointing given Bhatt’s known potential in films like “Raazi” or the more recent “Darlings”. Isha literally refers to Shiva’s “button” – the force that drives her and unlocks her fire powers, a tool in her hero kit. She is shrewd, brave and loyal, standing firmly by his side even without any weapons, but she needs to be constantly defended – at least through Shiva’s eyes. Kapoor himself doesn’t bring much to the role, nor does the role lend itself to novelty and challenge. The physical prowess he brings to the dance sequence translates into stunt work and what can only be described as fire-bending, but Shiva is no different from the otherwise puppy dog ​​sad boy, but synonymous with Kapoor’s lead. (some of which Mukherjee also directed).

The cast is otherwise bloated; Lead’s forgettable friends disappear after the first volume, in which they are heavily eclipsed by a group of children in Shiva’s care. Once he appears in the middle of the film, Bachchan is a welcome presence, striking a perfect balance between stern and benevolent as Guruji, but losing track of some of the other disciples in his ashram and the segment It’s easy to reduce.

“Brahmastra Part One: Shiva”

Photo courtesy of Star India Pvt. Ltd., Dharma Productions, Ayan Mukerji and Ranbir Kapoor

Mukherjee’s screenplay keeps the story focused and dynamic, even with some intermittent performances. The comedy is particularly strong, with sharp jokes interspersed between romantic and dramatic dialogue – though some of it may be lost on non-Hindi speakers. The resulting tone is a bit distracting as the film tries to balance its emotional build with proper leverage, but it works overall. To that end, the first act moves quickly, but the pacing is inconsistent and the finale is too convoluted.

“Brahmastra” is one of the most expensive Indian films of all time, with an estimated budget of 410 crores or over $50 million. This investment pays off with the dazzling CGI of Astra’s lighting powers, which is similar to the scenes on “Ms. miracle. Since there is no real-life comparison to what the Divine Light Power would look like, “Brahmastra” gets to create its own visual language, filled with lush shading and matching brightness and saturation in hue. The film’s editing can be heavy-handed bordering on chaotic, but anyone who has ever seen an Indian soap opera will feel at home.

Pritam’s soundtrack manages to nail down his talent as a composer and the versatility of singer Arijit Singh. “Kesariya” and “Dev Deva” are more alike than different, barely clearing the slippery bar for originality in the Bollywood music scene, which is increasingly populated by remixes and any older songs. Autotune and renamed “2.0”. “Nritya Ka Bhoot” is minimalist and charming, serving to introduce the character of Shiva through Kapoor’s formidable dancing talent. Composer Simon Franglen’s background score, while serviceable, lacks the distinction needed for a film of this magnitude, and could have benefited from more Indian classical influences given the film’s themes.

“Brahmastra” imposes a lot on its audience, especially with the rules and history of the weapons, which was not needed in “Part One”. After all, it’s not like audiences understood the intricacies of the Infinity Stones when they were introduced in “Age of Ultron.” The film completes most of the works, such as building Shiva’s history and path forward, and the look and feel of the Astraverse war and training. The second half of the film takes some predictable but satisfying twists, leading to a reveal that will have to wait until “Part Two”. Like other big blockbusters, this one leaves the audience wanting more.

Grade: C+

“Brahmastra Part One: Shiva” is now exclusively playing in theaters.

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