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Merry Christmas Review: A delightful mystery thriller!

The film directed by Sriram Raghavan and starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi was released in cinemas on January 12.



A still from Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Director: Sriram Raghavan

Cast: Katrina Kaif, Vijay Sethupathi, Sanjay Kapoor

Release: In Cinemas

For starters, although I don’t understand the Tamil language, I liked the Tamil trailer of Merry Christmas more than the Hindi one purely because of the way it was cut. I found it edgier than its Hindi version. Watched the Hindi version of the film on the evening of the film’s release among 30-odd people in the auditorium. When you walk into a film by Sriram Raghavan, an auteur of his own kind, you expect only one thing – you’ll see something unexpected.

To begin with, Raghavan managed to cast Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi as the leads which no one would have ever expected to see together. Kaif and Sethupathi share sparkling chemistry and play off each other’s performances well. Sethupathi is at ease and has a charm of his own. Katrina’s presence adds a dream-like feel to the film set in the early 90s.

It is Christmas, so it is festive and cozy. Presumably, Merry Christmas is made on a limited budget but it does not reflect in its quality. If you are willing to indulge, you’ll see how smartly Raghavan with his able production designer and cinematographer creates an immersive world of a bygone era. You don’t need a row of Fiats and Marutis on the streets to show that it is the 90s. You need only a couple of those parked at the right places and smartly cheated by the camera to give you the feel of the bygone era. In Badlapur (2016), Raghavan made use of actual rain to save a lot on production design “and so on…” (a phrase often used by Raghavan while speaking).

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There are staples of Raghavan’s films/articles in Merry Christmas. A tribute to RD in some way or the other, play or mention of obscure Hindi film songs that only a geek would remember. Merry Christmas opens with a shot from a Shakti Samanta film. You soon get to know that Raghavan has dedicated this film to the late filmmaker.

What I like about Raghavan’s films and films in that genre is that they stay away from preachy social commentary. It is purely about the plot and what a character does in the situations he/she finds him/herself is not determined by their gender, cast, class etc. Less chances of someone taking offense to what is seen on the screen, especially in today’s day and age where people lose their shit at the drop of a hat.

It is good to see a filmmaker not trying to please the cynics, critics, moral police or the jury at a film festival. He’s making the film that he wants to make. And that’s why there’s plenty to enjoy in Merry Christmas.

“What is most personal is most universal”, said American psychologist Carl R. Rogers. The craft of Merry Christmas is as personal of Raghavan as any of his other films. I think that’s the way it is with auteur filmmakers. And it’s a trip every time you watch their films. And as I am writing this, I realize what the opening split-screen scene of two mixers – one grinding a chutney and the other grinding medicine pills – was all about. Wow!

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About other things that make a film a film: There are only two costume changes for both the leads. It is a story of one night. The dialogue in the beginning seemed a little awkward, especially in the scenes between Sethupathi and Tinnu Raj Anand. The sound design is impeccable and the music grows on you. The entire climax is shot only on music. There’s no dialogue. It was such a delight to watch. The film has some delightful cameos as well by Radhika Apte, Sanjay Kapoor, Ashwini Kalsekar, and Vinay Pathak.

There was nothing that I did not like. But there’s a flipside to expecting the unexpected, especially if you have followed a filmmaker’s work over the years. You start guessing what could be the unexpected that the filmmaker might throw at you. So, in my mind, I started to put two plus two together. I don’t want to rob you of your film-watching experience but there were a couple of setups that gave away the hints at the obvious pay-off/resolution – the mute daughter of Katrina, the bird-in-a-age artifact that Sethupathi buys at a shop, Sanjay Kapoor’s missing wallet. Other than that, Merry Christmas was a delightful watch. Don’t miss it.