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Merry Christmas Review: Ho, Ho, Whoa!

Last updated on: January 12, 2024 10:48 IST
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Merry Christmas has a breathtaking climax that will have you sighing like you've never sighed in a Sriram Raghavan movie before, applauds Sukanya Verma.

Unfazed by the fan frenzy surrounding Andhadhun's critical and commercial acclaim, Sriram Raghavan designed his next as an intimate project free from the pressure of expectations.

Only there's no such thing as a minor Sriram Raghavan film.

Always ahead of the curve, his body of work reflects not only his love for the medium but ours too. Every creation of his is an invitation for cinephiles to become nerds and catch on to all the little nods he has packed into his genre-bending narrative. It's almost as if he is telling the audience, 'Listen, I believe in your intelligence, try this way of watching movies.'

Crime at its cold-blooded best attracts him as much nostalgia fuelled by classic cinema.

But with Merry Christmas, Raghavan may have made his most romantic movie yet.


Shimmering with spellbinding charisma and treacherous impulses, it is a one night's tale unfolding on X'Mas eve in Bombay, before it became Mumbai, at an unspecified time that could be anywhere between late 1980s or mid 1990s.

A cut out of Jai from Sholay on the pavement, one of Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca outside the single screen, Adventures of Pinocchio running inside the halls, an instrumental version of Parinda's Pyar Ke Mod in the theatres preceding Liril and Limca ads of yore, Kabir Bedi trending over Octopussy in magazines, a band called The Chiclets are timestamps in a pre-Internet and mobile phone era.

These are the times back when those brightly lit contraptions installed at railway stations allowed us to check our weight, receive a ticket full of prophecy stamped by a movie star's face, black and white taxis speckled the streets, double-deckers zoomed off a path, quaint gift shops sold twittering tokens and Regal cinema's stall and balcony counters welcomed moviegoers with open arms.

Madhu Neelakandan's camera gloriously captures its Bambai Raat Ki Baahon Mein vibe while two strangers as different as pharmacy pills and podi masala cross paths over a serendipitous night.

A curious encounter between a forlorn duo Albert (Makkal Selvan Vijay Sethupathi) and Maria (Katrina Kaif) grows into a beguiling connection over the course of a late night stroll and a series of unforeseeable events.

Residing in South Mumbai's art deco buildings, their homes are a window to their soul.

If one is a bare but cosy sanctuary of neatly stacked memories, the other is an interior decoration delight full of floral wallpapers, opulent upholstery, a well-stocked bar, vintage curios and a pile of books (there's Raymond Chandler) and LP records MacKenna's Gold and In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Raghavan's masterful use of classical music and Christmas carols to underline the dark humour and drama of a moment is one of the most thrilling attributes of Merry Christmas.

There R D Burman's Jab Andhera Hota Hai from Raja Rani, too, throwing up one of the many Rajesh Khanna references as well as a fond tribute to Rajnigandha's reckless desires in the ultimate taxi song, Kai Baar Yun Bhi Dekha Hai.

Although it's a certain Rosie from Vijay Anand's Guide that comes to mind in a flashback involving an extra-marital affair, Merry Christmas, which opens with a shot of Asha Parekh's hysterical scream in dejected duo love story, Kati Patang is dedicated to the original master of noir masala and melodrama, Shakti Samanta.

Raghavan teases us into connecting the dots as if mocking our tendency to overthink his scripts, this one co-written by Raghavan, Pooja Ladha Surti, Arijit Biswas and Anukriti Pandey. A cat atop a post-box, a pair of goldfish in a bowl, origami swans, some natter about the Merry Widow -- does it mean something? Does it have to? Nothing seems random when seen through his eyes.

And frequent collaborator and editor Pooja Ladha Surti's flawless cutting from dead body to dosa renders the process all the more alluring.

As the night progresses, MacGuffins and red herrings abound.

Is it a game of unreliable narrator?

Or a psychopath killer story?

The premise has overtones of Yash Chopra's Ittefaq and Ram Gopal Varma's Kaun but Raghavan's riveting adaptation of French crime writer Frederic Dard's Le monte-charge, made into a movie by French film=maker Marcel Bluwal in 1962, has more than mischief and Murphy's law on its mind.

I was prepared to be marvelled by Merry Christmas but to be moved to the extent I was at the end of its mesmerising 144 minutes? That I did not anticipate.

Much is said about the oddball casting, but Vijay Sethupathi and Katrina Kaif's instant chemistry dispels any incongruity of contrasts. They are such an effortless fit and convey more mood and magnetism in their peculiar Hindi accent than many so-called pairs.

From Biblical conversations to relationship woes to a silent understanding of their pain and philosophy, their characters -- a grieving son and a gloomy mother -- engage at numerous levels and reveal layers of angst and anger concealed under their soft spoken persona. Dance or destruction, their spontaneity is irresistible.

As is their candour.

DDDL, dil diya dard liya, Albert explains, is his love story in short. He also believes, 'sometimes violence is better than sacrifice.'

She believes in God but 'will he believe me?', Maria wonders in a moment that pierces like poignant poetry.

Katrina is a decidedly pleasant presence but until now I don't think I ever enjoyed the camera fixating on her face and savouring her joyous hysteria as she goes through Albert's amateur novel.

As for Vijay Sethupathi, the man's a genius.

Under that unassuming style and inscrutable methods is a canny actor who recognises the length and breadth of his craft so well, he'd do wonders even under auto pilot, just imagine the wonders he produces under Raghavan.

Things take a hilariously dangerous turn after Sanjay Kapoor and Raghavan regulars Vinay Pathak, Ashwini Kalsekar and Pratima Kazi pop up on the scene prompting intrigue and interrogation in equal measure.

Don't miss the beginning, Badlapur's unforgettable tagline, is as good as a commandment in Sriram Raghavan’s book.

Merry Christmas opens with a question first asked by John Lennon in his anti-Vietnam war protest song, Happy Xmas (War is Over).

'So this is Christmas and what have you done?'

The answer, my friend, lies in a breathtaking climax that will have you sighing like you've never sighed in a Sriram Raghavan movie before and playing Antonio Vivaldi's Winter in a loop.

Santa Raghavan comes bearing gifts to a cinema near you.

Merry Christmas Review Rediff Rating:

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