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'Merry Christmas' Review: The Devil's In the Details In Sriram Raghavan's Latest

'Merry Christmas', starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi, hit theatres on 12 January,

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A man gets off at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in Mumbai and eventually lands up alone in a movie theatre on Christmas Eve. A woman and her young daughter, hauling a huge teddy bear, take up the seats behind him. While the duo leave for a bit, the man becomes the teddy bear’s willing caretaker. As chance encounters go, this is pretty standard, and slightly adorable, fare. So far, Sriram Raghavan’s Merry Christmas comes across as a hallmark movie with the colour and mood tone of a Hitchcockian thriller. 

'Merry Christmas', starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi, hit theatres on 12 January,

Katrina Kaif in a still from Merry Christmas.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The woman, Maria (Katrina Kaif) and her daughter Annie soon return and the chance encounter with the man Albert (Vijay Sethupathi) turns into a night where two strangers try to connect over alcohol and memories from their past. Albert says he’s back from Dubai but we know he got off the train. Did he make a detour? Is he lying? These soon seem unimportant when the film’s real conflict comes into play (I still can’t shake off the fact that it isn’t really addressed). 

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In a way, they’re both struggling to come to terms with the way their lives have gone – both fell in love with a person and for both of them, the relationships didn’t go the way they wanted. This is reflected even in the way they interact with each other – Maria is skeptical and Albert is almost too careful, like he’s trying to keep his default settings in check. 

'Merry Christmas', starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi, hit theatres on 12 January,

Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi in a still from Merry Christmas.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Katrina Kaif plays Maria as a woman who is more sure of her motivations than her decisions – it’s a performance that Maria puts on as much as Kaif does. In some cases, it’s difficult to buy into the sheer emotional depth; the connection between Maria and Annie doesn’t feel well-explored enough. I can’t fault, however, the little details that remind you that Maria is a woman who, instinctually, is kind and Albert is someone with a tendency to fly off the handle. Brilliant. 

And everything about the characters is explained through one character’s dialogue to another; it maintains the intrigue (I love the possibility of an unreliable narrator). 

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Vijay Sethupathi has mastered the art of the poker face that can lend itself both to humour and intrigue. It’s a performance we’ve come to expect from Sethupathi though, and that does take away from some of its charm. But his eyes are every bit as haunting as they come – Albert has very little to say but you’re never in the dark about what he’s thinking because of how well Sethupathi can convey his thoughts even through silence. 

'Merry Christmas', starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi, hit theatres on 12 January,

Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi in a still from Merry Christmas.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Ashwini Kalsekar, once again, appears in a minor role that makes you wish she had been there for much longer. Sanjay Kapoor, Vinay Pathak, Pratima Kazmi, and Radhika Apte all flit in and out of the film, all justifying every second of their presence with their performances. 

Merry Christmas isn’t nearly as nail-biting as Andhadhun but something about the simplicity of this thriller keeps you hooked. After the major reveal, you’ll pretty much be able to pinpoint the direction the story is going to take – especially if you notice all the crumbs Raghavan leaves around in the story (co-written with Pooja Ladha Surti, Anukriti Pandey, and Arjit Biswas) and in his characters. And yet, the slow burn in Merry Christmas is set well enough for you to want to stay till the pay off.

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For a movie set in 1980s Mumbai, the setting plays a huge role and the makers don’t ignore that. In fact, the very architecture of the film becomes crucial to the film. The sequences of Maria and Albert in her house take their time establishing details about the space they’re in – the Christmas tree, the bits and bobs around the room, the fancy bar, the photos scattered around the room speaking of Maria’s life that we don’t otherwise get to see. 

'Merry Christmas', starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi, hit theatres on 12 January,

Vijay Sethupathi in a still from Merry Christmas.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Cinematographer Madhu Neelakandan takes his time sweeping over the setting, capturing this minute details for you. The red-blue-green colour palette that populates every frame is arresting. I don’t, however, understand the need for the sheer number of close-up shots in the film. It feels almost jarring after a certain point – there were other points where the scenes felt non-deliberately slowed down (or was that all in my head?)

The background score by Daniel B George complements the film beautifully - neither distracting nor easy to miss. And the way Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' is incorporated into the film (or the Bollywood Easter eggs) only speak to the director's vision. It is almost reminiscent of the way Quentin Tarantino uses the lighthearted 'Stuck in the Middle with You' in Reservoir Dogs.

To be honest, Merry Christmas feels like a narration – someone has you sitting in their living room while they explain their latest story to you. “Here’s why I wrote this in,” they’d often say. The good thing is that the entire time you’re willing to sit there, nodding, understanding. I would watch the film again just for that feeling. 

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