In the bygone era of Bombay, on a warm Christmas Eve, Sriram Raghavan’s “Merry Christmas” fulfills its promise, delivering a poignant blend of nostalgia and romance, along with elements of intrigue and suspense, offering a robust start to the new year.
Few directors possess the ability to authentically and affectionately recreate a glimpse of the past, and Sriram Raghavan is undoubtedly one of them. The exact date is left unspecified, but the unmistakable aura of the past permeates the narrative: a festive spirit envelops the city, streets buzz with low-slung cars carrying revelers, strings of shiny bulbs adorn housing compounds, dimly-lit restaurants with waitresses donning Santa caps serve vibrant red spaghetti, elderly uncles proudly present homemade potent wine, and a renowned South Bombay movie hall welcomes patrons into its dark interiors. The stage is set for the unexpected, and it unfolds beautifully.
The introduction of Albert (Vijay Sethupati) and Maria (Katrina Kaif) doesn’t adhere to the traditional meet-cute formula of boy-meets-girl. Instead, it unfolds as a more mature, lived-in encounter, a series of serendipitous meetings that elicit grins from the audience. The first hour of the two-hour duration of “Merry Christmas” is marked by a continuous smile, as Albert, returning to Bombay after seven years, observes Maria’s struggle with her sleepy daughter and oversized teddy bear. He consistently appears until she eventually invites him into her home, creating a dreamy and magical atmosphere.
Despite the expected post-interval slump, it doesn’t diminish the overall experience. As Albert and Maria seamlessly navigate through the streets, sharing meaningful glances and building confidences, the audience roots for these two characters who have faced hardships in their quest for love.
Though an unconventional pairing, they manage to make it work, overcoming the inevitable challenges. Katrina Kaif, who has hinted at her acting prowess beneath the layers of makeup and glamour (as seen in ‘Zero’), convinces us with her portrayal of Maria. With her red lips and a seductive change of attire, she keeps the audience guessing about the innocence she portrays. Vijay Sethupati’s portrayal of Albert is outstanding, skillfully balancing yearning and caring as he engages with the charming Maria, dancing and swaying while holding the audience close. The pas-de-deux between the two is so captivating that one might consider watching the film again solely for this enchanting dance.