Though there is a little Andhadhun nostalgia, director Sriram Raghavan doles out another fine dark comedy.

Rating: (3.5 / 5 )

By Mayur Lookhar

Life is best enjoyed when you embrace every moment. Past, future is irrelevant. Simply submit yourself to every moment that life has to offer.  The opening 45 minutes of Merry Christmas [2024] are filled with captivating moments. 

A Dubai-based architect has returned to Mumbai after seven years. After greeting his uncle [played by Tinnu Anand], he chooses to spend the Christmas eve at a local South Mumbai resto bar. Destiny introduces him to a pretty woman and her lovely child. He follows them to Regal theatre whereby the trio watch The Adventures of Pinocchio [1996]. Director Sriram Raghavan’s film is set in mid 90s. (Don’t lose the metaphorical significance of the film-within-a-film). The strangers leave at the interval, courtesy the sleepy child.

Being a gentleman, the architect offers to help carry the big teddy bear thereby leaving the woman with just her child. He offers to drop them by a taxi, but the woman prefers walking as her house is close by. The woman calls the man inside, he helps himself to few drinks, the woman sips her wine. There’s music, dance, a first one for our man in ages. They leave the sleeping child home, head to a Christmas fair. Jeez, they haven’t even formally introduced themselves. Though strangers, they appear to have known each other for ages. The man takes her to his home, then to a nearby woods to reveal his name that was carved on a tree seven years ago. Phew, what’s in a name? It’s the company that matters. Albert Arogswami [Vijay Sethupathi] embraces the totally unexpected tender, beautiful moments with the stranger Maria [Katrina Kaif].

As a viewer, you are lost in these beautiful moments. There couldn’t be a better way to ring in Christmas. Who needs a story? One wishes that these moments last all night.  However, a movie stills needs a story. And the one here is… SRIRAM RAGHAVAN.  The very name is enough to define the Merry Christmas story. All it takes is an unfortunate event to burst Albert’s bubble. Thereafter, the protagonists are simply trying to wriggle themselves out of the mess. From coming close to getting intimate with Maria, Albert now wants to distance himself from the lady. However, they are bound by destiny to ring in Christmas together.

Based on a French novel, which is only revealed in the end credits, Sriram Raghavan dishes out another fine thriller. The term franchise can be a curse as the makers have to live up to expectations. Merry Christmas is not any franchise film, but it partly triggers the Andhadhun [2018] nostalgia. Andhadhun itself was inspired by a French short.

This time around Raghavan’s done well to conceal the original source. Merry Christmas [2024] is soaked in the festive spirit, and it doesn’t leave it even when the cookie crumbles. All it takes is the mention of the word Santa by the once-mute Annie. Jeez, it’s Christmas. The neo-divine intervention yields a ‘present’ that will change the future for one. Raghavan smartly has no dialogues in the final moments. He banks on the expression, action by the leading characters Albert, Maria, cop [Vinay Pathak], the dramatic background score to close the Merry Christmas chapter. Maybe one thing is conclusive, but like Andhadhun, Raghavan leaves space for viewers to draw their own interpretation(s) of the Merry Christmas climax.

There might be a sense of déjà vu but it’s the gripping screenplay that draws you to Merry Christmas. The engagement level wavers briefly post interval. That is when Sanjay Kapoor’s character Ronnie comes into the picture. The seasoned actor is good, it’s just that certain scenes aren’t quite gripping. Raghavan has a unique strategy to conceal the pivotal truth, but is it possible to burn all of it in Jupiter’s Bakery in one night? Any more word here would be a reveal.

Vijay Sethupathi

Southern super star Vijay Sethupathi made an impressive debut in Hindi space with Farzi [2023]. Thereafter, he played the antagonist in the blockbuster Jawan [2023]. Albeit your reviewer wasn’t pleased with this film or Sethupathi. Jawan, though, was just an aberration as Sethupathi shows his class in Merry Christmas. There are moments where Albertis caught looking over his shoulder. The moment he meets this gorgeous lady Maria, any fear is thrown out of the window. The joyous moments with a stranger feel surreal. Once the conflict presents itself, Albert becomes wary. He, however, then decides to stay back and braves to reveal his past. Arogswami! There was one evil Doctor Swami in Andhadhun. Albert has his demons, but he sure is no evil doctor. The subsequent actions make you empathize with Albert more. His Hindi isn’t perfect, but it needn’t be. Sethupathi emotes through his eyes. If a Dunki v/s Salaar ugly tussle threatened a North-South divide, a Vijay Sethupathi performance will always bridge that gap.

Katrina Kaif

Meanwhile, it’s a brilliant performance by Katrina Kaif. Phew, we never thought of seeing this day. She’s been in the industry for close to two decades yet seldom convinced us. This intense, measured performance by Kaif is perhaps the finest in her career. Romancing the stars in action thrillers, comic capers has its own perks, but Kaif has found her true calling in a character like Maria. Credit to Sriram Raghavan for bringing out the best in Kaif. Some had cast aspersions over the Kaif-Sethupathi combine.  The duo bust all needless doubts with their fine chemistry.

Katrina with Pari Maheshwari Sharma

The adults are admirable but it is Annie who stole our hearts. Child artiste Pari Maheshwari Sharma lives up to her name. The tiny tot is loaded with innocence, cuteness. She says just one word in the film, but one can’t take your eyes off the adorable child. In a pivotal scene, Albert catches Annie awakes and hiding behind an object. Ah, your heart melts seeing little drops of tears. With such a small child, one needn’t worry as the expressions are often natural.

Though creepy, Sanjay Kapoor’s Ronnie helps to lighten the tensed atmosphere. Radhika Apte, a constant figure in Raghavan’s last two films, thankfully only has a cameo in Merry Christmas.

Familiar tale, but fine screenplay and commendable acts by the protagonists. Merry Christmas has impressive production design, especially the representation of then Mumbai. and in particularly Regal cinema. Much of the action is shot is indoors. Raghavan, his production designer, cinematographer have shot the interior shots in adequate lights that offer a rich visual experience. A couple of playback songs are contextual and enjoyable.

A film titled Merry Christmas! Shouldn’t it have come on Christmas? Well, there were two behemoths in Dunki and Salaar that week. Hey, but Shoojit Sircar’s film October [2012] had come in summer and was much appreciated. With a Sriram Raghavan, it’s never too late to say Merry Christmas. Go unbox Bollywood’s first marquee film of 2024.

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