Brahmastra tells a story about a warm-hearted DJ named Shiva (Ranbir Kapoor) who falls for the quick-witted Isha (Alia Bhatt) then finds he is having disturbing visions. When he realises he has the superpower of controlling fire, he is recruited by Guru (Amitabh Bachchan) to stop a gang of villains reuniting the three pieces of an ancient weapon that can destroy the world.
For audiences used to Marvel and DC superheroes, there is something fresh but also disorientating about seeing an Indian superhero movie that lasts almost three wild hours, including an extravagant song and dance number, riotous colours, Indian mythology and, as in India, an intermission.
Mukerji recognises these differences are a challenge for western audiences.
“Traditionally, even the most popular Indian entertainment has a certain cultural beat to it, which normally is very different to the cultural beat which the international audience is used to consuming,” he says. “It’s just a different flavour.”
But Mukerji is heartened that streaming means audiences are more open to watching foreign-language fare.
“Marvel is a very high bar to aim towards, especially for a universe created out of India, but definitely we want to expand audiences beyond just Indian audiences,” he says.
Brahmastra started shooting in 2018 and went on for so long that the two stars fell in love, married and were only months away from having their first child when it opened. Mukerji says the pandemic was only one factor in why the production was so challenging.
“While we are big budget for an Indian film, what we were aspiring to do with visual effects and the kind of cinematic language we had is not done very often in our industry,” he says. “It’s really done much more in the western world and in the Hollywood film factory. So we were reaching for something beyond our grasp.”
Just as Hollywood spreads American culture and values around the world, Mukerji wants his “astraverse” to do the same for India.
“Absolutely,” he says. “I hope that as people watch Brahmastra and what comes in the future, they’ll feel more connected and gain more of an insight into Indian culture.”
The chief executive of distributor Mind Blowing Films, Mitu Bhowmick Lange, is not surprised that Brahmastra opened so strongly. It played in most city, suburban and regional circuits, released with dialogue in Hindi as well as Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam in different areas to tap into regional subcultures, with English subtitles.
“It had all the makings of a big film because it had big stars, good music and good storyline,” she says. “And Indian films have been doing very well at the Australian box office.”
While audiences might be ready for the rest of the trilogy, it will be a while. Mukerji is hoping to finish Part II in three years and, Shiva willing, Part III in four years.
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