Merry Christmas movie review: Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi sparkle in a Sriram Raghavan world – Hindustan Times

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Merry Christmas movie review: A thriller. A murder mystery. A suspense drama. A twisted tale of love. Writer-director Sriram Raghavan, five years since his last directorial Andhadhun, once again displays a spectacular example of what brilliant writing looks like. His latest outing, Merry Christmas, isn’t just about the unusual pairing of two very distinct actors – Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi. The film goes far and beyond, entering unchartered territories and immerses you in a world of deception, death and darkness. Also read: Katrina Kaif, Vijay Sethupathi’s Merry Christmas release pushed
Unlike most films of today’s times where narrative and the build up is often hurried and patchy, Merry Christmas is a slow burn. With its gripping and intriguing storyline, it keeps you hooked for most part. Are there some dull moments? Perhaps. Is it boring? Not at all. Merry Christmas is the kind of cinema that makes you sit back, absorb, soak in and analyse it deeply.
Based on Frédéric Dard’s Le Monte-charge, the film doesn’t boast of a complex screenplay, instead it’s quite smooth and easygoing. The twists and turns roll out as the story unfolds but they’re nothing so over-the-top and lacks the wow factor. While in Andhadhun each reveal made you stand up and take notice, Merry Christmas slightly underplays it in that department. 
It has its own high points but they’re devoid of the thrill element that Raghavan is known to bring to the table. I wasn’t shocked or amused. A revelation happened and that’s about it. It doesn’t register in a manner that you’re left awestruck. The climax sequence lasts for some 30 minutes and is nail-biting, but the ending – indeed an experimental one – could have been better, both in terms of writing and storytelling. Nevertheless, it does leave you thinking, interpreting it in your own way and eager to discuss it with a friend later.
 
Merry Christmas narrates the story of a fateful night of Christmas eve where Albert (Vijay Sethupathi) has come back to Mumbai from Dubai, or so he claims, and realises that his mother is no more. Taking a stroll in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai), he goes to treat himself at a lavish restaurant. There, his path crosses Maria’s (Katrina), who has been stood up by her date because she brought her daughter along. They exchange quick glances, and meet again inside a theatre. One thing leads to another and Albert ends in Maria’s old-fashioned apartment, only to later find himself caught up in a crime scene. He can escape any moment, but he decides to stay and help Maria figure out things.
This delirious romance in a murder mystery sets the tone for Raghavan’s Merry Christmas and serves several delectable moments. Firstly, the impromptu dance sequence featuring Vijay and Katrina at her house on the Christmas Eve is just so well performed. They dance their hearts out and make you laugh with their moves. Don’t miss the surroundings in this scene – the green wallpaper, red curtains, dim lighting and the Christmas tree all lit-up. Merry Christmas heavily rides on its lighting and background score (by Daniel B George) to emphasise on important sequences, and build the tension.
I loved the close-up shots of props used that stay pivotal to the storyline throughout – the mixer grinder and the spectacles in the opening shot, the origami, the teddy bear, the buttons in the lift, fish in the aquarium and the bird in the cage. Other than the leading and supporting cast, Raghavan users all these elements as important characters in his storytelling.
Also, pay attention to how Raghavan uses references to classic films and veterans. The cinema ticket that comes with a photo of yesteryear superstar Rajesh Khanna. A cutout of Amitabh Bachchan in the background from his angry young man days. There’s also the song Jab Andhera Hota Hai Aadhi Raat Ke Baad from the 1973 film Raja Rani, that’s played in the background in one of the important scenes. Such nostalgia!
The story, co-written by Raghavan along with Arjit Biswas, Pooja Ladha Surti and Anukriti Pandey, doesn’t meander, and swiftly moves from one end to another. The dialogues aren’t anything extraordinary, but the subtle humour surely is. Especially when Vijay delivers some of the funniest one-liners with a poker face, it leaves you with a smile. Albert reminds me of the Professor from much popular Spanish series Money Heist who became a rage in India during the pandemic. He talks less, barely smiles but when he let’s his hair down, he’s the most fun person you’d have come across. And of course, they both love origami. Vijay delivers a standout performance, so flawless that you can’t figure if he was actually playing the character or just being himself. After the villain in Jawan, seeing him in this mellowed avatar is quite refreshing. 
Katrina is class apart. Her expressions, body language and a restrained act never let her overpower the character. Though her emotional scenes looked a bit sketchy, but in rest of the portions, she manages to create the desired mystery around her character. I loved that Raghavan hasn’t tried to make his characters look extra flamboyant or sensuous. There’s a simplicity which you can sense – both in the character sketches and the narrative.
Actors Sanjay Kapoor, Tinnu Anand, Vinay Pathak, Ashwini Kalsekar and Pratima Kazmi have small yet important roles in the plot, and they all lend a great support to Raghavan’s mystery universe. And don’t forget to watch out for Radhika Apte’s exactly 2-minute cameo that’s worth a special mention.
I wouldn’t say Merry Christmas is predictable but if you’re extremely alert, follow the cues and pick nuances, there are quite a few easy giveaways about the big reveal. Also, don’t expect an overtly mind-boggling climax. It’s out-of-the-box, yes. Or rather experimental, but it underwhelms. I expected more there. Not that it needed to be explanatory but something was amiss.
Watch this Vijay Sethupathi and Katrina Kaif-starrer to appreciate good cinema, brilliant writing and enjoy an engaging watch that keep you on the edge on your seat, but you won’t really jump out of it on any big reveal or the climax. Yet, it’s Sriram Raghavan’s cinematic world, and is a must watch, even if for one time.

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