‘Merry Christmas’ movie review: Sriram Raghavan delivers a sumptuous slice of crime thanks to a fabulous Vijay Sethupathi

The unlikely pair of Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi shine in this noirish tale of a long night where the crux is more engaging than the climax

January 12, 2024 01:09 pm | Updated 06:15 pm IST

Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi in ‘Merry Christmas’

Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi in ‘Merry Christmas’

Two decades after he emerged on the scene with Ek Hasina Thi, Sriram Raghavan mounts yet another delectable tale of a charming woman accosted by a stranger. The damsel has grown into a mother and this time, not only the man, she also harbours a secret. As they get along on Christmas Eve, we get some melancholy-tinged witty conversations on unfulfilled love and unmitigated heartache, but the slow-burn gradually combusts our attention leaving plenty of soot behind.

An adaptation of popular French writer Frederic Dard’s novel Bird In A Cage, the story of a long night unravels in Mumbai when it was called Bombay. Albert (Vijay Sethupathi), who has returned to the city after a long time, is mourning the death of his mother. To get over the gloom, as he tries to immerse himself in the festive spirit, he comes across an enchanting woman called Maria (Katrina Kaif) at a restaurant. She is with her daughter and big teddy bear, but the father is conspicuous by his absence. Albert, like us, feels there is something wrong about the woman but still gets irresistibly drawn towards her. With nothing to lose, perhaps, his past makes him feel smart. When she calls him home, a second time, Albert feels his night is going to be merry... only to find himself caught in a cage.

Raghavan, like his spiritual guru Alfred Hitchcock, loves to let out as much information to the audience as possible and still befuddle us with the quirks of fate. Perhaps, that’s why his films have great repeat value. You keep wanting to go back to the crime scene to find the needle that you missed.

ALSO READ | Down the rabbit hole with Sriram Raghavan

Here again, he dresses up the narrative with delicious literary and cinematic references. So, at the point where you start feeling the need to rewind a few frames, a copy of Raymond Chandler’s Playback shows up. Like the novel, the investigating officer (Vinay Pathak) also gets moved by the emotional pleas of the subject of the investigation. In the build-up to a tale of lies, half-truths, and changing perceptions, he drops references to The Adventures of Pinocchio (1986), The Merry Widow (1952), and Kati Patang (1971). Not to forget, Asha Bhosle’s number from Raja Rani (1973) that pays tribute to the stealer in all of us.

Merry Christmas
Director: Sriram Raghavan
Cast: Katrina Kaif, Vijay Sethupathi, Sanjay Kapoor, Vinay Pathak
Duration: 141 minutes
Storyline: Two strangers meet on Christmas Eve, but a romantic meet-cute quickly turns into a chaotic nightmare

The dialogues have depth without being didactic, and the production design provides the feel of the period and imparts a pulpy feel to the cinematic equivalent of a paperback edition. The editing imbues the narrative with smart surprises, the sound design adds to the mystery, and Pritam’s compositions don’t come in the way of the seamless build-up.

As the two losers in love, Katrina and Vijay complement each other, with Sanjay Kapoor adding a fine slimy touch to the tale. Cast in perhaps her most cerebral and well-rounded role, Katrina not only looks the part of a beautiful and seemingly-innocent woman, but goes beyond it to hold on to the soul of a complex character. For a change, she doesn’t look stiff in her conversations with the camera and is suitably flirtatious with Vijay who holds the strings together with a performance that warms and wrenches the heart in equal measure. It is a slice of crime that would not have worked without life-like characters and Vijay is the glue that keeps the loose ends together. The way he jives or the way he depicts the helplessness of Albert in front of the mystique of Maria, Vijay turns a hopeless hero into a winsome experience.

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However, after a point, the noir suffers from translation blues. Some parts come truly alive, others fall in the gaps that exist between the manuscript and the motion picture. The crime and the big reveal described in the novel are difficult to visually adapt on screen and one has to give the benefit of the doubt (or is it reputation?) to Raghavan to believe in the stagy enactment of the climax that hangs like a postscript. 

Drawing from Hitchcock, watch Merry Christmas more for the anticipation of the crime than the crime itself.

Merry Christmas is currently showing in theatres

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