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.

Review: ‘Tiger 3,’ starring Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif and Emraan Hashmi

November 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in “Tiger 3” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Tiger 3”

Directed by Maneesh Sharma

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking in various countries in Asia and Europe, the action film “Tiger 3” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A husband and wife, who are government spies for competing agencies, get into various problematic entanglements involving betrayals and conspiracies.

Culture Audience: “Tiger 3” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Tiger” movie franchise/YRF Spy Universe and movie’s headliners, but the movie is overly convoluted with almost nothing original to offer.

Katrina Kaif in “Tiger 3” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Tiger 3” is the continuation of 2012’s “Ek Tha Tiger” and 2017’s “Tiger Zinda Hai,” a movie series about love partners who are also spies for the Indian government. All three movies are part of the larger YRF (Yash Raj Films) Spy Universe, which includes 2019’s “War” and 2023’s “Pathaan.” “Tiger 3” certainly has the production budget to be a big movie spectacle, with all the expected explosions and over-the-top fight scenes. It could have been a much better action film, but too much silly dialogue and too many formulaic scenarios lower the quality of the movie. It’s a globetrotting spy flick that frequently changes locations but tells the same type of revenge story.

Directed by Maneesh Sharma and written by Shridhar Raghavan, “Tiger 3” has a convoluted story that often gets unfocused. It’s not necessary to “Ek Tha Tiger” and “Tiger Zinda Hai” before seeing “Tiger 3,” but it helps if you want more information about the main characters. Seeing these previous two movies will just show that “Ek Tha Tiger” and “Tiger Zinda Hai” are better than “Tiger 3.”

The two spy spouses who are at the center of the “Tiger” movie series are Avinash “Tiger” Singh Rathore (played by Salman Khan) and Zoya (played by Katrina Kaif), who each work for different government agencies. Tiger works for the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which is the foreign intelligence agency for India. Zoya works for The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is the largest intelligence agency for Pakistan.

“Tiger 3” begins in London, with a flashback to October 1999, when Zoya (played Gurket Kaur) is in her late teens or early 20s. She is shown doing kickboxing exercises with her father Rehan Nazar (played by Aamir Bashir), who works for ISI. Rehan is soon killed in an explosion. Rehan’s ISI colleague Aatish Rehman (played by Emraan Hashmi) asks Zoya if she wants to lead a normal life or follow in her father’s footsteps. Of course, viewers know what decision she makes.

“Tiger 3” then jumps to the present day to show an elaborate rescue mission sequence where Tiger is supposed to save his former handler Gopi Arya (played by Ranvir Shorey), who has been trying to get information about a planned assassination of a RAW agent named Jibran Sheikh (played by Neeraj Purohit) in Pakistan. And what a coincidence: Zoya is somehow involved in this assassination plot. (Her reason won’t be revealed in this review.)

The movie then zig zags between betrayals, kidnappings, framing for crimes and imprisonments, while the story jumps around from place to place in various countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Austria. Somehow, with all this mayhem going on, and Tiger and Zoya spending very little time at home, viewers are supposed to believe that they are also attentive parents to their son Junior (played by Sartaaj Kakkar), who’s about 11 or 12 years old.

But surprise! There’s another member of the family who is introduced in “Tiger 3.” This long-lost family member is named Hassan Ali (played by Vishal Jethwa), who meets Tiger for the first time in the movie. Hassan’s relationship to Tiger is explained in the story, which just seemed to throw in the Hassan character just to add to the overstuffed plot.

One of the worst scenes in the movie is a fight between Zoya and a mysterious operative named General Zimou (played by Michelle Lee), who attack each other inside a luxury spa in Istanbul. Zoya and General Zimou are wearing nothing but towels in this fight scene. And during the most brutal parts of the fight, the towels unrealistically stay intact.

General Zimou is an unnecessary character, so this fight scene looks like it was put in the movie as an exploitative gimmick to show two women fighting while barely clothed. The male stars of “Tiger 3” would never have been asked to do this type of scene that tries to tease the audience into thinking that there will be some nudity from the brawlers during the fight. It’s all just so blatantly sexist filmmaking that treats women as sex objects.

Tiger’s supervisor is RAW chief Maithili Menon (played by Revathi), who seems to be in the movie as a useless boss, since she doesn’t know a lot of what Tiger is up to and doesn’t really help when Tiger needs her the most. The movie also does a terrible job of convincing any viewer with common sense that Zoya and Tiger, who openly live together as spouses, can continue to fool their competing government agencies that this marriage is not a conflict of interest to their jobs. Because of the movie’s ridiculous action scenes, the mediocre-to-bad acting, and flimsy plot twists, “Tiger 3” becomes mind-numbing after a while and does not earn its long-winded 156-minute total running time.

Yash Raj Films released “Tiger 3” in select U.S. cinemas on November 11, 2023, and in India on November 12, 2023.

Review: ‘Phone Bhoot,’ starring Katrina Kaif, Ishaan Khatter and Siddhant Chaturvedi

November 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ishaan Khatter, Katrina Kaif and Siddhant Chaturvedi in “Phone Bhoot” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Phone Bhoot”

Directed by Gurmmeet Singh

Hindi, Punjabi and Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and Pakistan, the comedy film “Phone Bhoot” features an all-Indian cast representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two housemates/best friends start a paranormal investigation business, they meet a seductive ghost who offers to help them if they help her, and a series of ghostly misadventures ensue. 

Culture Audience: “Phone Bhoot” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s stars and don’t mind watching mindless horror comedies that are not scary at not very amusing.

Ishaan Khatter, Katrina Kaif and Siddhant Chaturvedi in “Phone Bhoot” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Phone Bhoot” is an intentionally silly “Ghostbusters” ripoff that isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. This mindless movie needlessly drags out to 130 minutes, which is excruciatingly too long for its flimsy plot. “Phone Bhoot” is nothing but a bunch of scenes where two bungling paranormal investigators find themselves in dumb predicaments (usually of their own making) while they are at the beck and call of a very seductive female ghost.

Directed by Gurmmeet Singh and written by Ravi Shankaran and Jasvinder Singh Bath, “Phone Bhoot” (which takes place mostly in India and partially in Lahore, Pakitsan) begins by introducing the two dimwitted clowns who decide to launch a paranormal investigation business. Galileo “Gullu” Parthasarthy (played by Ishaan Khatter) and Sherdil “Major” Shergill (played by Siddhant Chaturvedi) are unemployed best friends in their late 20s who share a one-bedroom rental house in an unnamed city in India. Gullu and Major are big fans of horror entertainment. They also pray to a fictional god named Raka and have a life-sized statue of Raka in their home.

One night, Gullu has a nightmare that Major is taking a shower in blood. It’s an example of one of many scenes in “Phone Bhoot” that have no real purpose and are just there to fill up time. Gullu has started a paranormal channel on YouTube called BhootTube (“bhoot” means “ghost” in Hindi), but the channel is not a success because of its low number of subscribers and viewership. Most of BhootTube’s subscribers are fake accounts created by Major. Gullu and Major pray to Raka to help them out of their bleak financial situation.

One night, Gullu and Major get electrocuted when they try to reignite the statue of Raka. The two pals fall into state of unconsciousness. When they appear to wake up, they go to a Fright Night party at an abandoned warehouse. It’s an event similar to a Halloween party, where people dress up in costumes.

At this party, Gullu and Major meet a mysterious woman who’s about 10 years older than they are. They are immediately attracted to her beauty. Gullu and Major both have instant crushes on her, but Gullu eventually becomes much more infatuated. Before the two pals even find out this woman’s name, all of the people at the party suddenly disappear, except for Gullu and Major.

And it happens right at the same time that police officers show up to tell Gullu and Major that this party was illegally held on public property, so Gullu and Major are arrested. This arrest is an unnecessary plot development because the consequences of this arrest are never mentioned for the rest of the movie. Gullu and Major try to explain to the arresting officers that they weren’t responsible for the party and that there were a lot of other people there, but the cops don’t believe them.

The sudden disappearance of all the othe party attendees except for Gullu and Major should be a big-enough clue to Gullu and Major that something ghostly or supernatural happened. Long after viewers of “Phone Bhoot” will have it figured out, Gullu and Major will have no idea that they can see ghosts, until these two buffoons literally have to be told this information by a ghost. Until then, “Phone Bhoot” wastes some time showing Gullu and Major involved in more stupid shenanigans.

The movie then abruptly shifts to a scene of Major driving himself and Gullu in a car on a fairly deserted road, when Gullu irresponsibly decides to give Major a pill of an unnamed psychedelic drug. Gullu takes the same drug at the same time. They both hallucinate that the car has turned into an airborne plane.

Their minds quickly leave the hallucination when the car accidentally hits a middle-aged woman on the road. Viewers later find out that her name is Lady Diana (played by Nidhi Bisht, wearing ghoulish makeup) and should not be surprised that she is a ghost who can manifest herself in a physical human body. The woman flies off into the air and into a nearby tunnel. (The visual effects in “Phone Bhoot” are very tacky and unrealistic.)

And then, the movie wastes time with a not-very-funny sequence of Gullu and Major thinking that the woman is dead and planning to bury her body. Major and Gullu begin twisting the feet of the woman to make her body easier to bury, but she’s screams out in pain. This slapstick scene has low-quality sound effects.

Major says as a joke when he hears the woman screaming in pain: “She must have polio.” This is the type of garbage comedy that “Phone Bhoot” wants viewers to think is hilarious. Lady Diana then crawls away and hides. She shows up again later in the film to get revenge.

The mystery woman from the Fright Night party then shows up at the house where Gullu and Major live. Her name is Ragini (played by Katrina Kaif), and she tells Gullu and Major that she’s a ghost. Major says, “Ghosts aren’t sexy.” To get back at Major for this insult, Ragini temporarily invades his body and makes himself hit his groin repeatedly with a paddle. He’s suitably humbled.

Ragini explains that she’s a “wandering spirit” who doesn’t have full control over all of her movements. She wants Gullu and Major to help her with something that only living humans can do. Ragini says she will tell them all the details later, but they have to promise to help her, no matter what she asks of them.

In exchange, Ragini says that if Gullu and Major start a paranormal business where the two pals charge money to do exorcisms of people and haunted places, she will help make the business a success. The business will also include Gullu and Major claiming that they can contact people from the dead and can pass on messages to the dead people’s loved ones. To make up for the business being a money scam, Ragini makes Gullu and Major promise to donate any proceeds they earn from the business to charity.

Gullu and Major name their business Phone Bhoot. They set up a phone hotline and launch an app, so potential customers can contact them. With Ragini’s help, Gullu and Major are able to convince people that they have special powers to control demons and contact ghosts. The business becomes a success, but the scenarios presented in the movie are mostly dull and unimaginative.

A scene were Gullu and Major are called to perform an exorcism on a girl named Dolly (played by Shreya Lodhia), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, relies heavily on showing Dolly levitating and hitting Gullu and Major with a stick. It’s not nearly as comedic as it could have been, mainly because this move is polluted with bad acting and terrible dialogue.

The last half of this long-winded dud of a movie involves Gullu and Major having to keep their end of the bargain to Ragini. It has to do with Ragini wanting to reunite with her boyfriend, a prince named Dushyant Singh (played by Armaan Ralhan), who became suicidal after Ragini died in a car accident caused by Dushyant. Ragini was the passenger in a car that Dushyant was driving, when he momentarily took his eyes off of the road to propose marriage to her. Dushyant feels responsible for her death. He plans to kill himself at the site of the accident on the two-year anniversary of Ragini’s death.

This subplot becomes jumbled up in another subplot where a demonic underworld lord named Atmaram (played by Jackie Shroff), who rules over other evil ghosts, becomes jealous of Gullu and Major because the Phone Bhoot business is ruining Atmaram’s business. Lady Diana is one of Atmaram’s minions. And what a coincidence: Atmaram also has a grudge against Dushyant and wants Dushyant to die. It all just leads to the inevitable showdown of good versus evil, with a lot of badly staged fights and even more stupidity.

The movie wastes considerable time in yet another subplot of Gullu and Major feuding over Ragini’s affections. “Phone Bhoot” has some joke gags that might bring a few chuckles, in the way that people laugh at small-minded and cheesy jokes. But “Phone Bhoot” overloads on this moronic comedy without the foundation of an interesting story. The end result is a completely obnoxious and boring movie.

Viacom18 Studios released “Phone Bhoot” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 4, 2022.

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