Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva, the first of a trilogy, is a Bollywood answer to the current superhero trend. The idea has reportedly been in the works since 2011 and began pre-production around 2018. This first film opens the “Astraverse” in which the film is set, and features Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt (a real life couple) in the starring roles.
BRAHMASTRA: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Long ago in ancient India, a group of sages discovered mystical energies called “astras,” the strongest of which is known as Brahmastra. In order to keep Brahmastra from destroying the world, the sages created a secret society known as Brahmansh. In modern day Mumbai, a scientist is hunted down by three evil figures, forcing him to give up his “astra.” Meanwhile, an orphaned DJ named Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) falls in love with a girl named (Isha) but begins seeing visions he can’t control during their date. He realizes the evil figures are going to hunt an archaeologist and he and Isha head there to save him, to no avail. Instead they happen upon the ashram and meet the guru who holds the keys to the Brahmansh and is training the next generation of fighters. While there, Shiva learns his true parentage is connected to this world and becomes the newest fighter of the Brahmansh.
What Will It Remind You Of?: The film acts as an origin story for Shiva as he learns about his powers, which calls back to just about any Marvel film of the past two decades. The section set at the ashram with the newest warriors is also reminiscent of X-Men films, where the mutants all learned how to wield their powers.
Performance Worth Watching: There are a few cameos from Bollywood royalty in this film including Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, the latter of which brings his well known gravitas and presence to the role of the guru.
Memorable Dialogue: While Shiva and Isha are trying to understand what happens next, there’s a fun dialogue exchange between Shiva and a priest at the temple. “Does this laptop have internet?” he asks. “The whole temple has wifi — you can WhatsApp God if you want,” the priest replies.
Sex and Skin: Nothing explicit — in fact, it takes almost the full 2 hours and 47 minutes to get a kiss between Kapoor and Bhatt.
Our Take: The concept of superheroes is not new to Bollywood, even if this is releasing at a time where that is the cash cow in entertainment. Brahmastra leans into a spiritual and almost religious reading of superhero storytelling; everything from rendering the ancient sages to look like the modern depictions of Hindu gods down to naming the main character after the Hindu deity Shiva feels like it’s tapped into a religious reading of what it would be like to have the figures of the scriptures walking amongst us.
With that in mind, the story is ambitious. There’s an overt tug between good and evil, and a predictable conclusion that leans on the idea of love being the key to unlocking all that is good. But there is not enough time spent with Shiva before he discovers his destiny, and with origin stories like this, we need to understand where this person was in life before they reluctantly become the hero we root for. In general, some of the film feels too plot-driven instead of focusing on character development, resulting in a bloated mythological film.
Kapoor and Bhatt have incredible chemistry together, aided by their real-life romance. The early scenes of flirtations are a highlight, and it’s a shame that Bhatt doesn’t get much to do later in the film except yell Shiva’s name in the forest (something that Indian TikTok has latched onto and poked fun at). The CGI and animations are also quite good and show that money was rightfully put into production, and the superhero elements work quite nicely next to some of the typical Bollywood beats.
The film certainly has room for improvement, and hopefully we see more character-driven storytelling in the next installment.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Though it is a bit muddled at parts, the grandeur of the execution is entertaining to watch.
Radhika Menon (@menonrad) is a TV-obsessed writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared on Vulture, Teen Vogue, Paste Magazine, and more. At any given moment, she can ruminate at length over Friday Night Lights, the University of Michigan, and the perfect slice of pizza. You may call her Rad.