The Hindi movie Merry Christmas is directed by Sriram Raghavan and stars Katrina Kaif, Vijay Sethupathi, Sanjay Kapoor, Tinnu Anand, Vinay Pathak, Ashwini Kalsekar, Radhika Apte, Pratima Kazmi, Luke Kenny.
Christmas time is usually a period of vacation, and people generally soak in on the occasion and carry out things at a leisurely pace. And that seems to have been the inner spirit of Merry Christmas, where things unfold, especially in the early portions, in a laidback and seemingly casual manner.
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Director Sriram Raghavan, who gave the twisty and tricky Andhadhun (2018), takes his time, not because he has nothing to say. Actually, he has plenty to show as he goes about seeing us around the place where most of the story unfolds. The geography of the place and the things filled in it are important to the scheme of things as they unspool.
A good film is not just about story or dialogue. It is, after all, a visual medium. And here is where Sriram Raghavan scores. He, along with the cameraman Madhu Neelakandan (a well-known name in Malayalam cinema), lays out the mood of the place. The camerawork is not your typical, ‘Look ma, here is a picture postcard frame’ type. Instead, it is used as an intrinsic tool of narration, and this is a technique that only self-assured directors attempt.
Sriram Raghavan surely is one, as he doesn’t fall prey to any of the cliches and never resorts to any boilerplate banalities. And that’s why when the climax arrives and proves to be less than adequate, you don’t actually feel cheated or underwhelmed. The ride so far has been a cool and interesting one with two engaging characters, Albert (Vijay Sethupathi) and Maria (Katrina Kaif).
The two are adrift in their lives in different ways. Albert claims he has come from Dubai as his mother has passed away. And on Christmas Eve, he runs into Maria at a fancy bar-restaurant. She has been rebuffed by her date as she had brought along her daughter. They later meet at a theatre, and one thing leads to another, and he ends up in her place.
The film is set in the 80s (Why are many filmmakers increasingly locating their stories in the past? Nostalgia? Or just a convenient plot contrivance?) and begins to unfold here as there is a dead body in the house. And neither Albert nor Maria are the persons they seem to be. They are abstruse and have things beneath their emotional and psychological exterior.
The story is adapted by Sriram and his co-writers Pooja Ladha Surti, Arijit Biswas and Anukriti Pandey from Frederic Dard’s French novel Le Monte-Charge. The film doesn’t pan out like an earnest murder mystery with plenty of stinging surprises. The deal is in the way the characters emerge.
Sriram gives both Vijay Sethipathi and Katrina Kaif plenty of space to express themselves, and the duo do a damn good job of it. The little dance byplay between Albert and Maria is such a cute moment in a movie of dark hues. VS also drops his usual deadpan one-liners while KK gets plenty of close-ups to showcase his histrionics.
A single-parent character looking for company usually ends up in a sensuous role. But here, Sriram doesn’t opt for that easy route. Instead, he chooses some character exploration, especially those with flaws and deviousness inside.
The background score of Daniel B George is a big plus as it provides the film with the right aural veneer and keeps the sense of foreboding alive (songs, by the way, are by Pritam). Sanjay Kapoor and wwArijit Biswas are also in the cast and make their presence felt. And the cameo by Radhika Apte is so good.
Sriram also drops plenty of film references from the past — it seems to be his favourite game within his movies. In that sense, Merry Christmas has a few, well, Easter eggs. On the whole, Merry Christmas may also be a holiday-spirited Halloween with masked characters.
Where can you watch Merry Christmas in the UAE?
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.