Review: ‘Merry Christmas’ (2024), starring Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi

January 18, 2024

by Carla Hay

Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi in “Merry Christmas” (Photo courtesy of Pen Marudhar Entertainment)

“Merry Christmas” (2024)

Directed by Sriram Raghavan

Hindi, Tamil and Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1980s in Bombay, India, the dramatic film “Merry Christmas” (based on Frédéric Dard’s novel “Le Monte-charge (Bird in a Cage)” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, and middle-class.

Culture Clash: When a man meets lonely married woman on Christmas Eve, he accepts her invitation to come back to her place, but complications ensue when the dead body of her husband is found in the home.

Culture Audience: “Merry Christmas” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching an intriguing mystery with twists and turns.

Pari Maheshwari Sharma (in second row), Katrina Kaif (in second row) and Vijay Sethupathi (in first row) in “Merry Christmas” (Photo courtesy of Pen Marudhar Entertainment)

“Merry Christmas” is the type of absorbing crime drama where things are not what they always first appear to be. It’s a well-acted whodunit mystery that has layers of psychological intrigue presented in stylish filmmaking. The movie is a worthy adaptation of Frédéric Dard’s 1961 novel “Le Monte-charge (Bird in a Cage).”

Sriram Raghavan directed “Merry Christmas” and co-wrote the screenplay with Arijit Biswas, Anukriti Pandey and Pooja Ladha Surti. The movie’s runtime is 144 minutes, but none of that screen time is wasted with boring scenes. Some of the story’s twists and turns are less predictable than other twists and turns in the story. “Merry Christmas” has a Hindi-language version and a Tamil-language version. The principal cast members are the same in both versions, but many of the supporting cast members are different in each version.

“Merry Christmas” takes place Bombay, India, sometime in the 1980s. Bombay is the childhood hometown of architect named Albert (played by Vijay Sethupathi), a never-married bachelor in his 40s, with no children. In the beginning of the movie, Albert has returned to his childhood home, where his widowed mother used to live. It’s the Christmas holiday season, and she has recently died. Albert hasn’t been back to this house in about seven years.

The landlord, who was a friend of the family, tells Albert that Albert’s mother suddenly died in her sleep. As a condolence gift, the landlord gives Albert a bottle of homemade wine that he has called Yadhoom. Tinnu Anand portrays the landlord/family friend in the Hindi-language version of “Merry Christmas,” and Rajesh Williams (also known as Rajesh) portrays the landlord/family friend in the Tamil-language version.

Feeling lonely, Albert goes to a restaurant by himself for dinner on Christmas Eve. At the restaurant, a stranger (played by Sahil Vaid), who’s about the same age as Albert, approaches him and tells him that he was there to meet a woman for a date at at the restaurant, but he has to suddenly leave. He points out the woman to Albert and asks Albert to tell his date that he won’t be able to join her dinner because of a work-related reason.

What the stranger doesn’t tell Albert is that he’s cancelled this date because the woman he was supposed to meet has a child (a girl about 3 or 4 years old) with her. He was expecting it to be a romantic date with no kids. Albert tells the jilted date about this cancellation. She seems disappointed but not too surprised. Albert finds out much later that the woman’s name is Maria (played by Katrina Kaif), who is in her 30s.

After leaving the restaurant, Albert goes to a movie theater by himself to see “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” And what a coincidence: The woman and the child are there too, in the row right behind him. The girl has a teddy bear with her.

Albert strikes up a polite conversation with the woman, who asks Albert to watch the teddy bear while she takes her daughter to the restroom. When they come back, Albert buys popcporn for the woman and the child, who both seem grateful for his generosity. Albert notices that the girl is mute.

After the movie ends, Albert joins the woman and her child outside and continues to talk to them. The woman doesn’t tell Albert until much later that her name is Maria, but she introduces the girl as her daughter Annie (played by Pari Maheshwari Sharma, also known as Pari Sharma), who is polite but getting very sleepy.

Maria invites Albert back to her home, which is an apartment above Jupiter Bakery, a business that Maria says is owned by her family. Maria and Albert seem attracted to each the more that they talk. Maria tells Albert up front that she is married, but she says it’s an unhappy marriage because her husband Jerome (played by Luke Kenny) is frequently away from home and is unfaithful to her. Maria says that Jerome is currently away in Vikram Colony and is probably cheating on her with a woman there.

Maria tells Albert she feels like a single mother and that her night out at the restaurant was supposed to be a “revenge date” to get back at Jerome for being an unfaithful husband. Maria later tells Albert that Jerome is a drug addict who’s been acting like a “psycho.” Maria believes that Jerome is the reason why Annie went from being an outgoing and talkative child to be being withdrawn and mute.

Albert opens up about his personal life to Maria. He tells her that he’s had his heart broken by a doomed loved affair with a woman named Rosie, who was his boss’ wife. Albert had planned to marry Rosie and bought an engagement ring for the proposal. The affair ended when Rosie decided to stay with her husband. Rosie died about seven years ago. Albert left the area around that same time.

Maria and Albert drink some wine and dance together. Annie is fast asleep in her room, so Maria locks up the home and walks around the city with Albert, where they talk some more about their lives. They eventually stop by his place. The attraction between them has become too strong to ignore, and they almost kiss each other.

However, Maria looks like she feels guilty and she walks away. She tells Albert that she should be getting home because she doesn’t want Annie to be by herself for too long. Albert says he’ll escort her back to her place.

But when they go back to the apartment, they see a shocking sight: The dead body of Jerome is sitting in a chair, with a gunshot wound on the left side his chest. He is also holding a gun in his right hand. Was it suicide or murder?

Albert doesn’t want to stick around to find out. Maria quickly checks to see where Annie is and finds that Annie is still sound asleep in her room. As Maria starts to call the police, Albert panics and tells her that he’s going leave before the police arrive, because his presence will make things look suspicious. Albert also uses a handkerchief to wipe his fingerprints off of anything he might have touched in the apartment.

The rest of “Merry Christmas” unpeels the layers of this story in very suspenseful ways. A married stranger named Ronnie Fernandes gets involved in this tangled web when he meets a distraught Maria. Sanjay Kapoor portrays Ronnie in the Hindi-language version of the film. Kavin Jay Babu portrays Ronnie in the Tamil-language version of the film.

“Merry Christmas” blurs the lines in what can be considered a “villain” in this story. There are situations that arise that are intended for viewers to wonder: “Is this a good person doing a bad thing, or is this a bad person doing a good thing?” Sethupathi and Kaith give very effective and believable performances that will keep viewers guessing. Along with the movie’s well-paced screenplay and skillful direction, “Merry Christmas” should satisfy fans of movie mysteries that deliver plenty of intrigue.

Pen Marudhar Entertainment released “Merry Christmas” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on January 12, 2024.

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