Merry Christmas Review: The Katrina Kaif-Vijay Sethupathi Drama Is Entertaining Even When It’s Confusing

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RATING 3.5 Merry Christmas Review: Vijay Sethupathi and Katrina Kaif’s thriller enthrals even when it defies logic
Katrina Kaif-Vijay Sethupathi in Merry Christmas.(Refer to: Katrina Kaif)

Merry Christmas, a quiet brainteaser that never loses its hold on viewers, is directed by Sriram Raghavan, Bollywood’s undeniable master of pitch-black thrillers. Raghavan steps back from the racy narrative rhythm of Andhadhun and treads carefully between the unhurried and the urgent, the philosophical and the provocative, and the classy and the kicky.
If the darkly humorous 2018 thriller took its cues from the French short film L’accordeur (The Piano Tuner) and galloped in a completely different direction, then the dual-version Merry Christmas, starring Vijay Sethupathi and Katrina Kaif (perhaps the most bizarre screen duo in history),

of Hindi and (perhaps) Tamil film) creates a haphazard rendition of Le Monte-charge, the novel by French crime fiction author Frederic Dard.

‘Dumbwaiter’ is how the French story’s title is translated literally. The book was published as Bird in a Cage in English. A goods lift and a stranded bird are two pertinent metaphors in the context of Merry Christmas, which is set in the Christian neighbourhood of Bombay in the 1980s.

Although things and lives really go up and down in Merry Christmas, the movie as a whole is incredibly balanced. Seldom is languor so completely mesmerising. The movie’s deliberate momentum—and sometimes even its slowness—is a crucial component of the overall concept. Each cut, angle of the camera, and piece of blocking heightens the sense of dread and suspense without giving away too much about what’s going to happen next.

A split screen at the beginning of the movie shows two mixer-grinders. One turns lentils and chiles into maligai podi, while the other uses tablets to make a powder. Both hide sinister secrets. When they come to light, they expose two sides of compulsive love gone wrong. Really, isn’t life just a grind? What one is able to create

Rich in artistic, visual, and musical touches that greatly heighten the mystery surrounding a Christmas Eve “romance” between a mysterious loner who returns to his Mumbai house after a protracted absence and Pari Maheshwari Sharma, an unhappy married mother of a small, wide-eyed daughter.

Merry Christmas is as Rohmerian in its long and piercingly unsentimental moral probe into the mechanics of love, loyalty, and betrayal as it is Hitchcockian in its unnerving twists and turns.

The screenplay, written by Anukriti Pandey, Pooja Ladha Surti (who is also the film’s editor), Arijit Biswas, and Raghavan, is full with stray clues that become more and more significant as the story takes place in and around a woman’s house above a family bakery that distributes butter biscuits to schools.

The audience has so much to savour and unpack in this film that it never feels pretentious or overly deliberate—even when there’s just talk happening on screen, or stray glances being exchanged between two strangers, or just awkward silences being resorted to in trying to penetrate the distance that exists between Maria (Katrina Kaif) and Albert (Vijay Sethupathi).

Merry Christmas to both the main characters and the keen observer who gets a close-up look at the action without having all the details explained in detail. The interiors of homes and cityscapes are engulfed in a hint of magic by director of photography Madhu Neelakandan, who also conveys mystery and festivity in the frames he composes.

In one of the most compelling on-screen roles of her career, Katrina Kaif portrays uncertainty and vulnerability with sporadic bursts of fierce resolve in an incredibly understated way. The contrast that Vijay Sethupathi represents—an actor who depends more on his eyes and facial expressions than on words alone to convey the raging storm within and around his heart and mind—helps her a great lot.

Merry Christmas is a delightfully inventive cinematic journey that uses an evocative and transporting colour palette along with a soundscape reminiscent of Hindi cinema from the 1980s to create a sense of bewilderment as the ghost of loneliness and the consequences of lost love. Maria and Albert both have backstories that have led them to this point in the movie, and they then journey together for the duration of the two and a half hours of the film in search of some sort of redemption.

Albert and Maria exchange inquiries with one another. The screenplay, on the other hand, poses questions to the viewer, such as whether violence is always preferable to sacrifice. Is it morally permissible to inflict wounds on oneself rather than to seek redress from someone who has hurt you? Can two people whose paths never intersect until one beautiful evening form a life-changing secret covenant as a result of a brief meeting?

As they enjoy a drink together at Maria’s house and then go for a stroll, the two main characters radiate a combination of calmness and mischievousness. They exchange brief information with one other in an effort to help each other relax and provide the spectator with some clarity. However, the latter effect is not universal; rather, it is designed to function as a hybrid of concealment and disclosure.

No matter how much time the supporting cast members spend on screen, Merry Christmas keeps its attention firmly on Kaif and Sethupathi without allowing them to become unimportant. It is quite amazing that a performer portraying a character with a mere, nearly inaudible murmured phrase isn’t only a footnote. He represents the pivotal moment in the movie that matters most.

Beginning with Tinnu Anand’s “neighbour uncle” who gifts the prodigal Albert home-made wine on the day of his return and making its way through the appearance of a ‘lifeless’ Luke Kenny and a rakish Sanjay Kapoor as a caterer understandably overly busy on Christmas-eve – he is a ‘caterer’ not an event manager for the latter term hadn’t yet come into the urban lexicon – and ending with Vinay Pathak, Pratima Kannan and Ashwini Kalsekar, Merry Christmas is strewn with characters who leave a mark.

Merry Christmas is a thrilling, captivating, thought-provoking, and subtly difficult thriller—everything you would hope for in a thriller. Even in its confusion, it enchants.

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