Brahmastra review: Ayan-Man’s Astraverse is off to a bright start

The film has its flaws, particularly the Alia-Ranbir romance saga, but the immersive VFX light up this fantasy drama.

Rating: 3 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Nothing irritates an objective journalist more than these informal chats with stars. You can’t carry anything. Besides, these conversations end up as fanfare moments for sycophant scribes. The Ayan Mukerji, Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt informal chat over Brahmastra – barely few days after the release of Shamshera [2022] – went along standard lines. But there was one thing that caught our imagination. The director Ayan Mukerji welcomed all the praise, but he stunned us when he said that more than praise, he values criticism.

An industry that usually likes to hear ‘positive’ things, Mukerji’s words came like a breath of fresh air. Here is a young director who is open to objective views, constructive criticism. The same can be said of Ranbir Kapoor, too, who recently rubbished theories of #BoycottBollywood gang sabotaging his last release. Kapoor humbly stated that only reason why films fail is poor content. We hope that the duo will take our review of Brahmastra in the right spirit.

During the promotions, we were intrigued by the words of Ranbir, Ayan who maintained that Brahmastra [2022] is no mythology, but a fantasy film. Brahmastra is the most powerful weapon in the universe, as per Hindu mythology. With a title like that, one would have expected the Dharma Productions film to draw inspiration from the traditional Hindu mythology. The Ayan-Man of Brahmastra has wielded an equally powerful weapon of his own. There are subtle tributes to Hindu culture, its mythology, but what we see is Ayan Mukerji creating a world of his own using the ancient elements.

Fantasy aside, the core of a typical Hindi film has to be love and Brahmastra is very much a love story. Don’t single out Bollywood fantasy dramas. We’ve seen Hollywood superhero, fantasy films riding on love too.

Set in contemporary time, Brahmastra [2022] tells the story of one commoner Shiva [Ranbir Kapoor] who is clueless as to why fire has no impact on him. He keeps having vision of strange beings. The DJ, who is a foster father to orphans like him, is smitten by a upper class woman Isha [Alia Bhatt]. It’s love at first sight for our man. They meet again at a club. He braves to initiate communication, while hanging to the lift. The lady warms up easily to the man and agrees to party with the impoverished Shiva at his humble residence.This sounds like a classic 80s, 90s clichéd romance drama where the woman looked at the man’s heart, and not his wallet. 

Before he can express his feelings, Shiva has vision of a stranger being attacked by mysterious, powerful assailants, led by Junoon [Mouni Roy] – The Queen of Darkness and her powerful henchmen. [Former WWE wrestler Saurav Gurjar is one of them]. The trio is now out to kill another target, but Shiva decides to take proactive action and save the man’s life. Isha tags along with him. Their journey takes them to the hills of Himalayas [shot in Bulgaria] where Shiva gets some answers to his questions.

Fantasy, super hero dramas have become the cash cow for cinema globally. Hollywood is dominated by Marvel Cinematic Universe films. DC Comics, too, have its loyal fans. Together, the two franchises have churned out dozens of films that have been cheered by desi fans too. Marvel, DC are like this Colossus whose shadow will cast over any other superhero/fantasy films. Comparisons are inevitable the moment a desi production house decides to churn out similar content. There is the ‘element’ary similarity between Captain Planet and Brahmastra.  Certain aspects will trigger X-men nostalgia, but Brahmastra still has a world of its own. Mukerji and co. have named it their Astraverse with Brahmastra planned as a trilogy.

It’s a rocky start to Part One – Shiva. The dull first-half threatened to explode this Astraverse. Much of the blame goes to the poorly scripted romance between Shiva and Isha. It is said that real life couples seldom create magic on the screen. Kapoor and Bhatt though weren’t dating when they started their Brahmastra journey. The shabby writing also reflects on the performance of the duo.  Alia Bhatt’s been roaring over the years, but her exuberance gets the better of her in Brahmastra.

Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor in Brahmastra [2022]

The usually dependable Ranbir is a bit off colour here. For the best part, he appears a reluctant protagonist. He’s happy to have found his lady love and isn’t keen to hone his fiery talent under the tutelage of Guru ji [Amitabh Bachchan]. Though a natural, but for the first time, we found Ranbir Kapoor trying too hard to impress. Both Shamshera [2022] and Brahmastra [2022] are territories that he hadn’t explored before. Credit to Kapoor who braved to get out of his comfort zone. He was flawless in Shamshera, but even Ranbir wouldn’t rate his Brahmastra – Part One show too highly. The average dialogues compound the misery for both Kapoor and Bhatt.

Hardliners can breathe easy as Dharma and Star Studios cropped the ‘Ranbir-wearing-shoes-at-Durga-pandal’ scene. The man prays at the pandal, then is smitten by Isha’s sight. What follows next is surprisingly, no Kesariya, but the Dance Ka Bhoot song. Kesariya and Deva Deva play out finely into the scheme of things. The music though is not vintage Pritam. However, the background score is impressive.

The early flakey screenplay and the average show by the leads threatens to derail Brahmastra, but what keeps the wagon together is the pleasantly surprising show by Mouni Roy. Yes, an evil desi lady muttering the word ‘scientist’ is a little off the mark, but Roy impresses with her dialogue delivery of the chaste Hindi words. The Naagin actor holds her own while squaring up against the Bollywood biggies. Big burly Saurav Gurjar impresses both with his power and measured acting. 

Shah Rukh Khan sports a new sexy hairdo in his cameo role. His character – scientist Mohan Bhargava naturally triggers the Swades [2004] nostalgia. Experienced Telugu star Nagarjuna, too, shines in his cameo role. Amitabh Bachchan looks frail but the veteran actor would be delighted to be doing new age action in a fantasy drama.

The mixed screenplay doesn’t do justice to its simple but believable plot. It is interesting to recall the early journey of the film. In his own words, Ayan Mukerji had mentioned how the film was initially titled as Dragon, and the lead character bore the name of Rumi. Going forward, the Dragon then transformed into Brahmastra, and Rumi into Shiva. We presume that Baahubali franchise writer K.V. Vijayendra Prasad must have provided certain valuable inputs.

Telling fantasy, mythology tales in contemporary setting is fine, but the early localized flavour [Mumbai lingo] felt little disconnected from the story at hand. Hussain Dalal’s dialogues are too pedestrian. He partly redeems himself in the latter half, where it is Bachchan who leads the recovery.

Up until now, readers might find more critical points, but then what is it that lights up Brahmastra? The answer lies in its rich, immersive visual effects.  Prime Focus produces an array of captivating visuals that is seldom seen before in Bollywood. Tumbbad [2018] and A.R. Rahman’s 99 Songs [2018] stood out for its visual storytelling, but Brahmastra goes few notches higher. The action and fiery visuals in the long climax are totally gripping.

Brahmastra stands out for its visual storytelling, the neat production design and cinematography.  It’s a content best viewed in 3D, IMAX only. Even Avatar [2009] invoked mixed views over its plot, but no one could question its out of the world visual effects. An Indian film doesn’t enjoy an Avatar’s budget, but Star Studios, Dharma Productions and Prime Focus have certainly raised the bar for desi films in the genre.

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