Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva is a soulless mega-franchise starter that does very little of interest with its massive budget.
Chances are, you already know what you’re getting yourself into with Brahmāstra Part One: Shiva. How could you not? It’s so larger-than-life that you can’t not know about it; as of now, it’s the third most expensive Indian film ever made, behind the likes of the mammoth RRR from earlier this year. The first of a planned trilogy — which in and of itself will constitute only a single part of the soon-to-be Astraverse cinematic universe — Ayan Mukerji’s modern reinterpretation of classical Indian texts aims for the same type of cross-pollination world-building and visual spectacle as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the fact that this is being distributed by Disney helps make this fact even more abundantly clear), but with an added dash of Bollywood flavor. So trade out the bloated excess of American blockbuster filmmaking for a slightly different variation of the same exact thing, with mythic undertones and a few song-and-dance numbers; what you end up with is a nearly three-hour-long commercial product that’s equally as lifeless as the MCU. At least that soulless franchise of nonsense concerns the likes of mutants and aliens dressed up in funny costumes with capes; here, it’s Gods and Goddesses who are getting the superhero treatment, which is a bit harder to swallow.
If there’s anything Mukerji and Hussain Dalal (credited for the film’s “dialogue,” most of which is a smattering of unfunny one-liners and romantic clichés) have done right by the original source material, it’s turning Shiva — the God of Destruction, the Supreme Being, and a principal deity of Hinduism — into a twenty-something dubstep DJ who helps run an orphanage. This version of Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) is an aloof twit who slowly learns of his connection to Agnyāstra (his ability to wield fire), which is able to help awaken Brahmāstra (the ultimate weapon said to destroy worlds), but he’s repeatedly stopped by Junoon, the Queen of Darkness (Mouni Roy), and then saved by Guru (the legendary Amitabh Bachchan), who’s the leader of the Brahmānsh — a secret society of sages that are against Junoon — and then stopped again; like all movies of this ilk, there’s a cyclical nature to the film’s narrative rhythms that moves endlessly between defeat and success. It’s still just fill-in-the-blanks “superhero” franchising masquerading as something more singular. There’s hardly much of anything that’s actually accomplished; after all, we have two more parts of the story to flesh out this ostensible trilogy, which, again, is all in service of an even grander over-arching narrative that will connect the dots. So this isn’t simply a start; this is the start of the start. Talk about metatextual.
But given the massive scale of this production, what about the set pieces? Well, considering the massive amount of capital than went into their production and conception, they’re… adequate, but nothing much stands out within the hazy fog of terrible CGI and shoddy continuity editing. Even when things slow down, it all remains sloppy: at the start of the film, Shiva and his lover, Isha (Alia Bhatt), are running across rooftops at night, but it’s difficult to discern if they’re moving in the same direction. Given the little attention paid to detail, even in the most basic of filmmaking technique, one is left only to wonder what the point of securing these massive budgets is when the final results still look and feel this cheap.