Brahmāstra: Part One is a Poor Start to Bollywood’s Astraverse

Images Courtesy of Dharma Productions.

The emergence and success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) caused—or cursed—many Hollywood studios to emulate that by creating their interconnected universe. We already have the DCEU, Wizarding World Universe, Star Wars Universe, etc. (RIP to the Dark Universe, you will not be missed). Little did the MCU know, it was causing ripples across the world to the largest film industry in the world, Bollywood. Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva is India’s first attempt at a superhero cinematic universe and the first of three movies in a planned trilogy known as the “Astraverse.” Starring Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, arguably the two biggest superstars of Bollywood, and produced by Karan Johar of Dharma Productions on a record budget of 410 INR crore ($51 million), there hasn’t been a more high-profile Bollywood movie released. 

Director Ayan Mukherji’s ambition is valiant and admirable but Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva is a weak start to the Astraverse. An overreliance on CGI, awkward dialogue, and stiff performances prevent the film from soaring like the many superheroes in the film.

Shiva (Kapoor) is an orphan who discovers he has a special connection to fire. After seeing visions of a scientist with monkey-like abilities beaten for a stone, he sets out to find out the truth. He meets another super-abled being Anish (Nagarjuna Akkineni) who leads him to Raghu (Amitabh Bachchan), Guru and leader of the Brahmānsh. Shiva, along with his love Isha (Bhatt), learns that the Brahmānsh is a society that protects the world from powers known as astras and the Brahmāstra, a power that can destroy the world. It’s up to Shiva to learn how to use his agniastra (firepower) to prevent the evil Junoon (Mouni Roy) from forming Brahmāstra.

Dusshera Festival in India
Dusshera Festival in India

Oddly enough, this isn’t Bollywood’s first cinematic universe. There are many franchises in Bollywood (Hera Phiri, GolMaal, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, etc,) but often the movies don’t have a connection, rather they might share the same cast or themes. The one exception is director Rohit Shetty’s problematic and inconsistent cop universe where Singham (Ajay Devgn), Simmba (Ranveer Singh), and Sooryavanshi (Akshay Kumar) exist in one world and cameo in each other’s movies. There are a few cinematic universe traits that Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva does well. The movie starts with a killer superstar cameo that’s wildly enjoyable and possesses some special effects that do work. But more often than not, it falls into the trap of creating a cinematic universe.

Just based on that plot, it’s easy to tell Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva has way too much going on. The astras are based on Hindu mythology and gods and the movie begins with an animated exposition dump explaining the different powers, the Brahmānsh, and Brahmāstra. It’s dense, to say the least, and is hard to follow. On the flip side, the movie also knows it’s the first in the trilogy and is worried about leaving breadcrumbs to set up a sequel. In short, the movie follows beat-for-beat flaws that are found in the weakest Marvel movies. In its jumbled mess of creating this world and setting it up for the future, it loses its sense of self and ability to act as a standalone film. 

Perhaps the most glaring flaw of the movie is the acting. In addition to being the top superstars in Bollywood, Kapoor and Bhatt are easily the most talented and lauded actors of their generation. This is their first film together and the two fell in love on set, eventually getting married earlier this year. All that being said, the acting is stiffer than a chiseled statue. It doesn’t help that the script is a bunch of exposition that doesn’t make any sense, but you would expect these two actors to rise above that. There’s not one moment where you can say either of them performed well and their chemistry is shockingly lackluster. Mukherji—who also wrote the movie—is focused on the spectacle of it all and forgets to give his actors anything to work with. The same goes for the legendary Bachchan who simply has no idea what’s going on or what mumbo-jumbo he’s spewing. 

Shiva (Kapoor) and Isha (Bhatt) share a romantic moment at a gate.
Shiva (Kapoor) and Isha (Bhatt) share a romantic moment at a gate.

Music is very important in any Bollywood movie and, unfortunately, it’s a letdown in this one. The “Kesariya” song is melodious but is improperly placed in the film. Right as the plot is taking off and Shiva and Isha try to find Anish, Mukherji slows everything down just by adding this song. It seems it’s just there to give the two leads a romantic song and serves no other purpose. While the “Dance Ka Bhoot” song isn’t very good, it’s a treat to see Kapoor dance so effortlessly—he’s truly one of the best dancers in Bollywood. The “Deva Deva” song is visually striking and one has to think budget issues caused the rest of the CGI to pale in comparison. 

While nowhere near as dramatic or controversial as the production of Don’t Worry Darling, Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva had its own infamous production. Principal photography of the film started in 2018 but development traces all the way back to 2011 when Mukherji first conceived the idea. The film’s production ended in March 2022 and was released last week. It does look and sound like a movie that was shot over the course of 5 years. The film’s initial title in 2017 was Dragon and Bachchan’s character exclusively refers to Shiva as “Dragon.” In addition, there are dubbing and ADR issues that add to the film’s datedness. 

Perhaps it’s the easter egg and franchise future we live in, but even with Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva being a largely unsuccessful movie, I am intrigued to see what Mukherji does in Part Two. Hopefully, he focuses on having a smart and witty script rather than a CGI mess.

Written by Aqib Rasheed

AQIB RASHEED is a staff writer at Film Obsessive. Member of the Chicago Indie Critics and served as the Resident Film Critic for the Loyola Phoenix from 2021-2022. An admirer of movies, old and new, from all over the world. President of the Al Pacino and David Fincher fan clubs.

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