For the column “Films seen on the map and underestimated”: Brahmāstra

«My son, you need to know that Disney+ doesn’t let you take screenshots, so this piece will be full of generic promotional images pulled from Google» «I understand, guru»

The main problem of Brahmâstra is that it comes from an idea that is hopelessly bitchy because it is Christian Democrat in a way that Indian cinema perhaps doesn’t deserve. The idea is that if Kevin Feige did it why can’t we do it in Bollywood too? Brahmāstrawhich is on Disney + because it is also produced by Star Studios which is a subsidiary of Disney, demonstrating that by now everything is DisneyI said that Brahmāstra would like to be for the Astraverse what Iron Man was for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or The Mummy for Universal’s Dark Universe, do you remember? It’s only the beginning. There is a whole multi-year plan that provides for an entire trilogy (the second chapter of Brahmāstra, Dev) to be included in the broader context of the Astraverse, in fact, which will develop not only in the cinema but also in TV and video games and so on, I mean, by now you know how it works, right? Bollywood also wants its superhero movie universe, but it wants it Indian-style, not American-style, with all those things superficially associated with Indian cinema, romances, dances, choreography involving hundreds of people, superior playing time to the average and common sense, and from this consideration arises Brahmâstrawhich in Hindi means “a halfway film”.

On the one hand it is inspired by Indian mythology and therefore, while talking about superheroes and superpowers, it does so from behind a filter of legend and spirituality – there are no radioactive spiders or orphans in the alleys but very powerful entities that give equally powerful powers to some selected subjects. On the other hand, it is inspired by the Marvel films, for which it has exactly the same structure as one of the one thousand seven hundred and seven cinecomics released in the last forty-five seconds, the same plot beats, the same predictable development and above all, damn the horizontal narration spread over eighty thousand hours of narration, is an origin story that is cut short when our superhero finally gains full control of his powers.

“See what I meant, son?” “Yes, gurus”

Luckily, being an Indian film, it doesn’t hold back like some of its Hollywood counterparts, and despite being narratively truncated and closing with the craziest of cliffhangers Brahmāstra it’s also a good show, with two perhaps three sequences that alone beat any Western rival in concept, complexity, quantity of ideas and expository clarity. However, his constant straddling keeps him grounded in this too: he never reaches the disconcerting peaks of the other major Indian (even if not Bollywood) case of the year, RRR. That is: it is on average more spectacular than a random Marvel film, but it is also on average less spectacular than a spectacular Indian film. It could be more and you kind of expect it given part of his CV; on the other hand it could be much less, or even worse it could be Eternals, so I guess we have to settle? I don’t know, it seems to me that this is the main flaw of Brahmâstra: he wants to please as many people as possible and thus ends up earning a general shrug of the shoulders. Theme song!

The story, told with an epic voiceover accompanied by images whose sobriety can only be described by saying “no”, is this: in ancient times, a group of wise men had a close encounter with a very powerful energy source. From this meeting were born the (the?) abstract, supernatural weapons capable of doing very cool things like shooting sentient green arrows in the shape of snakes or erecting walls of ice. Brahmāstra is the name of the most powerful of these weapons, but also the most unstable: if it falls into the wrong hands it could be used to destroy the universe, no less. The sages thus form the Brahmānsh society, whose task is to watch over the weapon and therefore the integrity of reality as a whole.

I know worse ways to police reality.

See what I mean when I say these superheroes are different? I’m not an expert on Indian mythology (or rather I wasn’t before seeing Brahmâstra), but Wikipedia teaches me that it is so METAL that there is an entire page dedicated to the list of these weapons and their characteristics. And we’re still in the intro! The focus shifts from the past to our contemporary hero, Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor, one of the most famous Hindi actors who has never been around here because he usually indulges in genres that this publication does not cover), who is… a DJ. Shiva’s entrance is sensational, because it looks like one of those Marvel skits made on purpose to show you how cool the new protagonist is, but staged with the arrogance of someone who has already involved two hundred and forty-seven dancers after less than ten minutes of film and a month of 24/7 work for the costume department.

We meet Shiva during a religious function, which must be deadly boring considering that as soon as it ends our hero goes out into the square and begins to dance with joy involving anyone who passes by. Tony Stark has never done anything this cool.

It is during this frenzied dance that Shiva sees for the first time what will prove to be the greatest obstacle between Brahmâstra and the potential audience caught in the Marvel basin: the beautiful Isha (Alia Bhatt, the above applies to Ranbir Kapoor), a celestial vision that he will chase until he meets her again by chance in the elevator (!), and invites her to spend the evening with him . The point is this: Indian cinema began to get noticed even by us outside the ethno-cinephile circle when it began to show us certain apparently indigestible stylistic elements applied to the Genre. And a little’, mutatis mutandisthe usual discourse on those kind of short-cut films The tiger and the dragon: I carefully select and distill the most potable parts of my style to offer them to you, an ignorant Westerner who feels like a turboglobalist when you watch a French film.

One of the side effects of this Operation Digestibility is that when you leave the fence of sanitized stuff for international use, you discover that there are more differences than you thought with what you usually look at. Romance in a Bollywood film is fundamental, not in the sense that there must be but in the sense that it is natural that it is one of the central elements of the whole work; even the aforementioned RRR framed the relationship between the two protagonists using the lens of the love story.


And so Brahmâstra is a romantic film, very romantic, super sentimental. The love story between Shiva and Isha (also in terms of musical numbers) is given twice the space given to the story of superpowers and world saving which would then be the main plot. No Marvel film (no cinecomic in general) has ever used the language and narrative solutions of the romcom so explicitly, and in general has never dedicated so much space to the love between two people. It’s not just a question of “there are a lot of scenes of kisses, caresses and languid gazes” or of “Shiva and Isha spend half the film saying I love you in a dramatic tone”, it’s just a question of “the fact that these two love each other it’s a pivotal plot point and directly affects everything else in the movie including superpowers.”

I’m going on longer because I think it’s right to warn anyone who decided to watch Brahmâstra based on the tamarrates. There are, huh? From the guy who stops a truck with one hand thanks to the power of the bull to the scientist (a very wasteful Shah Rukh Khan) who does magical parkour passing through the aforementioned snake-arrows, Brahmâstra it is full of inventions, even visual ones, far beyond the borders of fantasy – even in terms of general education: don’t expect blood, guts and beheadings, and don’t expect too much violence either, to be honest, just lots of pirouettes and a lot of people shooting bullets fire or similar. But if it’s showmanship you’re after there are more superpowered takes and crazy choreography in the Brahmâstra that… you know what I mean.

Yet it is impossible, coming from whose side it is undergoing has been enjoying the MCU and its surroundings for twenty years now, not feeling a certain tiredness and not noticing a certain predictability in the solutions, despite the claim to lean on mythology. Stripped of all the trappings and distractions of talking not about “Thor” but about “Shiva”, Brahmâstra it’s another superhero movie with all its little things in the right places, and nothing else. There are powers to awaken, villains to fend off (including the ever-present Half-Dressed Gothic Villain with black lipstick, which contrasts with the angelic beauty of Isha), a mysterious temple to be found with the help of Google Maps, so not so mysterious. There’s even a Professor X who runs a school for young superheroes, only he’s a guru and runs a temple (he’s Amitabh Bachchanfor which it is valid et cetera) (the temple instead is the mysterious one of before).

But then the scene with Google Maps preludes a car chase and subsequent beatings between superheroes and supervillains that I would take care of now if I could (hey, wait a minute, I can!). The temple of the Not X-Men is also the location of a spectacular (albeit a little drowned in CGI) final battle that lasts a good half hour during which everything explodes, continuously. More generally, there is an evident desire to challenge Hollywood on a field (that of the visual spectacle) in which Bollywood has dominated for decades but which it had not yet explored in certain corners; and consequently there’s the same college-cinematic Hollywood flaw of forgetting to write a good story to back up all this pyrotechnics. He’s way too polite Brahmâstra, all too concerned with doing the right things and laying the foundations for a cinematic universe as correctly as possible but also with remaining digestible enough at home. He can’t let himself go, which is the big problem of anyone who is forced to work in the creative cage of a franchise that hey no who are you what do you want from me go away who let you in because you have mouse ears nooo leave meeeee you can’t aaaaaa

Odds mouse

“Too little too much”
(Laurel Kubrick,

IMDb | Trailer

NB1 I realize on re-reading the piece that I have done a disservice to Ayan Mukerji, that the film was written (not very well) and directed (well). Mukerji is the third film in his 13-year career: the first two are between the romcom and the coming of age, so don’t feel necessarily obliged to catch up.

NB2 you may have noticed that in the title Brahmāstra there is a special character that creates graphic problems for the entire duration of the piece. We could have corrected and simplified it by replacing it with an “a”, but “we preferred respecting the handwriting to rendering the font” says Nanni Cobretti, Supreme Leader.

For the column “Films seen on the map and underestimated”: Brahmāstra