When you’re planning to go for a Sriram Raghavan film, you can expect to remain perched at the end of your seat, eyes following the events unfolding onscreen minutely to not miss a single plot detail and keep up with the twists that are characteristic to the director.
His latest film Merry Christmas is immediately different.
We meet Albert (Vijay Sethupathi) as he returns to Bombay (this is set in a time before the city became Mumbai). He is grieving the recent loss of his mother and the sadness in his eyes can be attributed to that. But you know better. Surely something else is brewing here. It is a Sriram Raghavan film after all.
It’s Christmas Eve and Albert decides to reacquaint himself with the city he had left to pursue a career in Dubai (or so he claims. Classic Raghavan, amirite?). This is when he stumbles upon Maria (Katrina Kaif) and her five-year-old daughter who have been stood up unceremoniously and are left alone in a restaurant.
Albert and Maria’s paths cross again as they watch The Adventures Of Pinocchio (1986) in a theatre and they give in to what fate has been pushing them to do. They start (tentatively) to learn more about each other.
At this point, you’re convinced something terrible is going to happen. This is not a love story where this heartwarming meet-cute could be a prelude to a Christmas romance. It’s a Sriram Raghavan film, didn’t you know!
Maria and Albert reach her house and she invites him over for a drink. “Don’t go, you fool!” you yell (internally) but the delicate bond (forged by the innate sadness that’s evident in both their eyes and body language) pulls Albert towards her and they ascend to her charming apartment for a drink and maybe more.
Raghavan proves yet again why he is the master of the genre because even after delivering five incredible thrillers, he manages to lull you into a false sense of security. You slowly sink back in your seat and don’t even realise that your face has stretched into a smile at seeing Albert and Maria gently flirting with each other, hesitantly testing the boundaries of what they can and cannot do since Maria is married and Albert is a virtual stranger to her.
But it is a Sriram Raghavan film after all. The penny drops and you’re brought right back to the edge of your seat as the murder mystery finally begins to unravel in front of you.
The languid pacing is a genius trick here as it allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the narrative and the well-designed setting without feeling burdened with exposition. In true Raghavan fashion, there are easter eggs littered throughout the film (right from the beginning) that would alert his fellow mystery fans to what is about to happen.
Merry Christmas is a delectable and dark murder mystery with a beautiful love story at its core. An adaptation of French writer Frederic Dard’s Bird In A Cage, the movie is far from the nail-biting pace of his last film Andhadhun (2018) which was filled with twists and turns right up to its end. The story is also something that we’ve seen multiple times before, more recently in Sujoy Ghosh’s Jaane Jaan, an adaptation of Japanese author Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X. Merry Christmas is predictable yet never boring. You’re hooked till the screen blacks out and the credits roll in and that has a lot to do with the incredible performances by the cast.
Katrina Kaif delivers a performance that takes your breath away. She is a stunningly beautiful woman so it isn’t a stretch to imagine her as a mysterious damsel in distress who would inspire men to go to war for her. Her Maria is troubled and mysterious but there’s so much more. Kaif’s restraint in her performance adds layers of complex emotions to her character that lend perfectly to the narrative that slowly unfolds to reveal layers of deceit and darkness.
Vijay Sethupathi reminds us yet again that he is one of the finest actors of recent times and how it’s almost criminal that he has not been cast as a romantic hero more often.
The supporting cast in the Hindi version of the film is superb. Sanjay Kapoor as the slimy Ronny is delightful, while Vinay Pathak and Ashwini Kalsekar are brilliant as well.
Movies like these have become a rarity these days, not just because this one featured an Urdu title card but because it’s been made with so much care in all aspects.
Should you invest your time and money into watching Merry Christmas? I don’t know your life, I can’t dictate your life choices. You do you. But if you’re a fan of mysteries and appreciate good cinema, you cannot miss this one. See you in the theatres because we’re definitely going back for an encore!