Sriram Raghavan’s Merry Christmas is a melancholic cocktail of all things classic. Sriram creates streets of Bombay one has never walked on. These are streets that scream of solitude; it’s the Christmas night and the streets of Bombay are empty, there are pockets of festivities though, a movie theater which is half full and an amusement park which briefly makes an appearance. This setting ensures we are not fooled into believing for a second that this film is aiming for ‘realism’. Sriram has never been one for realism, it’s his quirk that has always fueled his interesting narratives. Two strangers (opposite genders) meet at a restaurant and the lady takes the man home for a drink while her daughter sleeps in the adjacent room. The characters acknowledge the absurdity of this premise and even if they hadn’t, the dialogue, filmmaking and Vijay Setupathi make sure to keep you away from questioning the logic.
Setupathi and Katrina are bestowed with the great responsibility of holding the audience’s interest as the inciting incident creeps into the narrative, creeps being the operative word. As Albert and Maria sit with a glass of Whisky and glass wine, respectively, the night sinks into surrender and vulnerability seeps out. They exchange their stories of love, betrayal and regret. The beauty of these stories is how much of them actually turns out to be true. In a film like this you’d expect the characters to play their cards close to their chest but here, they reveal the truths of their pains, just not the truths of their painkillers. That is why this opening conversational stretch is my favourite writing choice of the film, for it lays the perfect base for the mystery to build upon, leaving just enough potholes for the emotion to accumulate.
The inciting incident! – A Death or is it a Killing?
We coil around the Merriment of the festival with the couple and reach a familiar road which is no longer interesting. A Dead body appears out of nowhere. You knew there’d be a death at some point but what you wouldn’t is how the coiling had just begun and we’d now be lured into dizzying circles. Merry Christmas has multiple reveals. One happens before the interval point where we know who the murderer is likely to be and then after the interval the entire first half reoccurs in 2x speed with a different character through which we are indirectly informed about the culprit. Now that’s a smart reveal instead of mouthing who the culprit is.
Vijay Setupathi and Katrina are both faultless in the film. There is a beautifully written parallel past for both these characters. In a touching moment, they discuss the difference in the nature of each other’s suffering. One being the pain of acting on the urge and the other, pain of incubating the urge. It’s terrific writing and the performances deliver the lines with great conviction. Setupathi shows once again that acting is all but enabling the magic to happen around you and while you just be. He gets a fantastic scene with a 5 year old girl where he narrates a story of a family of fish – A scene that could easily become comedic becomes sensitive in his hands. He is helplessly brilliant, as usual.
Sriram Raghavan puts an assured foot forward by employing all his love and admiration for Agatha Christie’s mysterious horror and Hitchcock’s suspenseful drama. It’s fascinating how much of Hitchcock there is in Vijay Setupathi’s character. A vulnerable middle-aged man running from the police for something he might or might not have done. As a character Maria (Katrina) is the usual damsel in distress but the way the film is written, it’s her character that needs to work without which it would all fall flat and Katrina ensures it doesn’t. It must be a fact that with age a person who is not a natural performer can still bring a certain believability and heft to a role, invoking their life experiences. Katrina is just as good as the film needs her to be.
By the time we reach the climax, we are emotionally well informed about both characters and what’s at stake for each of them. Hence, the characterizations make the fantastic climax work. After the big reveal has happened and you now understand how this seemingly impossible murder happened, the most interesting part of the film unfolds; which is – The Cover up. In a stranglingly tense stretch Sriram beautifully stages a scene in Police Station that alternates between pain and relief several times eventually settling down into an abyss of melancholy. The writing sows seeds of seemingly irrelevant things throughout the film and all these details bloom organically into the climax. The film Merry Christmas is deliciously suspenseful and assuredly emotional; thankfully both these aspects work like gold and deliver a film that is breathtakingly entertaining.