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: ‘Michael’ (2023), starring Sundeep Kishan, Vijay Sethupathi, Divyansha Kaushik, Gautham Vasudev Menon and Varun Sandesh

February 10, 2023

by Carla Hay

Sundeep Kishan in “Michael” (Photo courtesy of Karan C Productions and Sree Venkateswara Cinemas)

“Michael” (2023)

Directed by Ranjit Jeyakodi

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in early 1990s and briefly in the 1980s, primarily in the Indian cities of Bombay and Delhi, the action film “Michael” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An orphan who was adopted by a crime boss grows up to be a thug innvolved the boss’ revenge schmes and murder sprees, while secrets and lies affect people’s motives. 

Culture Audience: “Michael” will appeal primarily to people who want to watch a lot of gruesome and gratituous violence in a movie that doesn’t have anything of quality to offer.

Gautham Vasudev Menon (center) in “Michael” (Photo courtesy of Karan C Productions and Sree Venkateswara Cinemas)

“Michael” is yet another mindless action flick about gangs and other people who are out for revenge. The story is a narrative mess, the fight scenes are unrealistic, and the acting is terrible. And with a total running time of 155 minutes, this flimsy story is dragged out for too long and quickly wears out its welcome with a lot of bloody and empty violence until the movie’s very predictable end.

Written and directed by Ranjit Jeyakodi, “Michael” does nothing clever or truly original, since it rips off ideas that have been in much better films. The movie (which take place in India, mostly in the early 1990s) tells a sloppily made story about an orphan who was unofficially adopted by a crime boss and has grown up to be a leading enforcer in his adoptive father’s gang. It should come as no surprise that secrets from certain characters’ past lives end up being revealed as a plot twist, although viewers who’ve seen enough of these types of unimaginative movies can easily predict this plot twist.

The title character in “Michael” is a swaggering thug (played by Sundeep Kishan), who has a mysterious past. In the early 1980s, Michael was adopted as an orphaned adolescent by a Bombay-based crime boss named Gurunath (played by Gautham Vasudev Menon), who has taught Michael everything that Michael knows about how to be a ruthless criminal. Michael has become Gurunath’s most trusted and most powerful enforcer.

However, not everyone in this crime family is a fan of Michael. Gurunath and his wife Charulatha (played by Anasuya Bharadwaj) have a biological son named Amarnath (Varun Sandesh ), who’s about the same age as Michael. Charulatha and Amarnath seem to resent Michael and treat him like an interloper in the family. Amarnath is predictably jealous of Michael because Gurunath respects Michael more than he respects Amarnath. Michael will most likely be named the successor to Gurunath’s crime operations.

Michael’s loyalty to Gurunath will be tested when Gurunath orders Michael to go to Delhi to kill two people: another crime boss named Rathan (played by Anish Kuruvilla) and Rathan’s seductive daughter Theera (played by Divyansha Kaushik), who doesn’t do much in the movie except pout, act sexy, and do some awkwardly place song-and-dance numbers. Gurunath wants Rathan and Theera to be murdered as revenge, because some of Rathan’s goons kidnapped Michael and stabbed Gurunath.

The movie never shows how, but Michael escapes from this kidnapping. (It’s an example of the movie’s awful screenwriting.) The next thing that viewers see is Michael taking a huge slab of boned meat and going into a nightclub and assaulting people with this slab of meat. He then uses weapons and his fists to assault more people. Many of the men being attacked work with gangster RK (played by R. K. Mama), who is an associate of Gurunath and who is also in the nightclub. RK warns Michael: “Michael, the day I come back will be your death day.”

Before Michael gets sent on the murder mission, Gurunath warns Michael not to be seduced by Theera. This is an example of some of the terrible dialogue in the movie: Gurunath tells Michael that female spiders kill male spiders after mating with them. “Women do the same things,” Gurunath adds. “We just don’t see it.” As soon as Gurunath makes this misogynistic statement, you just know that Michael will be seduced by Theera.

Michael starts off by stalking Theera, who ends up getting a car ride from Michael and tells him that she knows that he’s been following her. Theera asks Michael to stop the car so that she can get some ice cream from a street vendor. Then she smirks and tells Michael: “I like to slap before I kiss … You’re not the only person I’m kissing. You want to sleep with me, no? You’re not my type. I’m warning you: Don’t fall in love with me.”

Be prepared for more mind-numbing and idiotic scenes like that, because “Michael” is full of them. There’s a subplot about Michael getting protection from an unnamed operative (played by Vijay Sethupathi) and his wife (played by Varalaxmi Sarathkumar), who have clues to Michael’s murky past. Michael also has a faithful sidekick named Swami (played by Ayyappa P. Sharma), who is kind of useless and isn’t in the movie as much as people might think he should be.

“Michael” is nothing more than bombastic and ludicrous fight scenes cobbled together, with a few musical numbers thrown in to make the movie even more erratic. All of the characters don’t have any real substance and just go through the motions. The action scenes are beyond stupid and just further lower the quality of this already low-quality movie. The ending of “Michael” makes it obvious that the filmmakers would like to make a sequel to this atrocity, which should be avoided if viewers care about preserving some of their own brain cells.

Karan C Productions and Sree Venkateswara Cinemas released “Michael” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on February 3, 2023.

Review: ‘Vikram’ (2022), starring Kamal Haasan, Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil

July 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kamal Haasan in “Vikram” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Films)

“Vikram” (2022)

Directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj

Tamil with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India in 2019, the action film “Vikram” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: The leader of a black ops team goes on a mission to find a serial killer, who might or might not be a drug lord who is also being sought for arrest. 

Culture Audience: “Vikram” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Kamal Haasan and who don’t mind watching overly long action movies with messy stories and silly fight scenes.

Fahadh Faasil in “Vikram” (Photo courtesy of Red Giant Films)

At nearly three hours long, “Vikram” overstays its welcome, as it becomes more of a convoluted mess of plot holes and increasingly far-fetched action scenes. The movie’s biggest “mystery reveal” has no real surprises. “Vikram” is just a repetitive and mind-numbing loop of double crosses and fight scenes from people who often have secret identities. At least one hour of this movie didn’t need to exist.

Written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, “Vikram” is a sequel to the 2019 action film “Kaithi” (another cops versus drug smugglers story) and is somewhat of a sequel to the 1986 movie “Vikram.” Because of all the twist and turns in the plot in the 2022 “Virkam” movie (most of these twists which are clumsily handled), there’s not much to say about the movie’s story except that it essentially revolves around three main characters:

  • Agent Amar (played by Fahadh Faasil) is an alpha male commander of the black-ops squad, which is unoriginally called the Black Squad. About five to seven men report to Agent Amar in this group. Amar has a generically overconfident personality and all the stereotypical actions of a black ops leader in a movie that’s more concerned about fight scenes and explosions than in creating characters with meaningful personalities.
  • Sandhanam (played by Vijay Sethupathi) is the leader of the Vetti Vagaiyara gang, which is involved in drug trafficking. And it goes without saying that Sandhanam is the movie’s chief villain. At least the movie made Sandhanam a colorful character with a lot of memorable quirks. Sandhanam is the middle of 24 siblings, he has three wives, and he’s described in the movie as “a bit of a psycho” and a “hardcore doper.” Sandhanam has bizarre plans to start his own government, which he wants to be funded by money he makes from drug trafficking.
  • Karnan (played by Kamal Haasan) is a mystery man who is shown murdered early in the movie, but his identity is crucial in unraveling the movie’s overly tangled mystery. Karnan’s murder is part of a series of murders committed by a roving group of masked terrorists who kidnap their victims, tie them up, and them kill them on videos that they send to law enforcement. Before each victim is murdered, one of the masked men snarls, “We declare war against your system.”

Karnan was one of three men whose murders were committed by this mysterious group of serial killers within a short period of time. The other two men were Narcotics Control Bureau official (and “Kaithi” movie character) Stephen Raj (played by Hareesh Peradi) and Narcotics Control Bureau assistant commissioner of police Prabhanjan (played by Kalidas Jayaram), who was Karnan’s adopted son. The video recordings of all three murders were also sent to law enforcement.

As far as the investigators know, Karnan was a civilian and not part of law enforcement. However, Karnan apparently had a seedy background as a drug addict, alcoholic and womanizer who frequently visited brothels. It might explain how Karnan was connected to the underground drug trade, but will that be enough information to solve these murders?

Predictably, someone in the Vetti Vagaiyara gang gets greedy and wants to betray gang leader Sandhanam. This traitor is named Veerapandian (played by Gowtham Sundararajan), who hatches a plan to team up with a member of rival gang to get a big drug shipment that has gone missing and deliver it to a mysterious crime boss named Rolex. Veerapandian’s partner in crime is Rudra Pratap (played by Aruldoss), and they both want to get the money from Rolex (played by Suriya) that would have gone directly to Sandhanam.

Amar’s supervisor is police chief Jose (played by Chemban Vinod), who has put Amar on this mission to find out who’s behind these terrorist murders. At the same time, Amar is also tasked with busting Sandhanam’s Vetti Vagaiyara gang of drug traffickers. It doesn’t take long for Amar to find out that Rudra Pratrap is the target of a murder plot.

All of this might sound like an intriguing story, but it’s handled in a sloppy and often nonsensical way. Viewers are expected to believe a lot of moronic plot twists and overlook many illogical story flaws. The last hour of “Vikram” is a steady pile-on of reveals until viewers feel like it reaches the ludicrousness of a bad soap opera. None of the acting in this movie is special or noteworthy.

As for the excessive violence in “Vikram,” it plays into the usual mindless stereotypes where the “hero” can, all by himself, take on and defeat several armed men at the same time without the “hero” getting any serous injuries. There are several heinous scenes in the movie where a toddler (played by Dharsan) is in the middle of the violence, and no one stops to get this child out of harm’s way. The baby is better off than most viewers of “Vikram” though, because the baby is blissfully unaware of “Vikram” being such a terrible movie.

Red Giant Films released “Vikram” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 3, 2022.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix