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‘Brahmastra: Part One — Shiva’ And How It Highlights Indian Culture

Indian god Shiva (Image via Unsplash)
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In this edition, we’re going to look at “Brahmastra: Part One — Shiva,” a film that may not have hit your radar and is now available on streaming services. It’s a sweeping, nearly three-hour love story that educates you on Indian culture, religion and folklore by the time you’re finished! Let’s get into it.

‘BRAHMASTRA: PART ONE – SHIVA’

If you’ve never experienced an Indian movie, it’s my pleasure to be the one to introduce you to the genre. That said, this is an overwhelming place to start, like having a horsepower-abundant pickup truck as the first car you ever drive. There is action at every turn and nods to the culture under each rock thrown at your senses! 

“Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva” is a 2022 film by director Ayan Mukerji. It stars Amitabh Bachchan as Guru, Ranbir Kapoor as Shiva and Alia Bhatt as Isha. On the surface, it’s a romantic tale of two mismatched lovers but quickly becomes a supernatural hero romp. The movie tells (and sometimes yells) the tale of Shiva and a past that was unknown to him. It’s your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-fall-in-love, boy-finds-out-he-has-supernatural-powers story. 

Bollywood

The film mecca of India is centered in Mumbai. The city used to be known as Bombay during colonial times and it became known as the Hollywood of India, Bollywood. Bollywood, which is also referred to as the Bombay Film Business, has roots as far back as the late 1800s. By the 1940s, the industry was thriving, creating films that authentically showcased Indian culture and customs.

Photo by pavan gupta on Unsplash

The Golden Age of Bollywood spans the 1950s and 1960s and is characterized by the rise of stars like Raj Kapoor and Meen Kumari. The 1970s ushers in the Masala film genre, big sweeping stories with huge song-and-dance numbers. When you think of Bollywood films, it’s this genre that comes to mind first.

Over the decades, Bollywood movies have become more and more elaborate. One of the tenets of these films is the incredulous nature of the action scenes and the randomness of massive dance routines that erupt out of nowhere. With the advent of CGI and green screen technology, a whole range of movies that delve into Indian mythology has arisen. That brings us to “Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva!”

Indian polytheism

I know. I know. We’re talking about a movie, not religion. You’re correct … except this is a movie about Indian religion! In the tradition of movies about Greek and Roman gods, this movie depicts these Hindu deities as powerful, supernatural beings. The difference between the Greek and Roman stories and these Hindu gods is that devotion to them is still widely practiced.

Indian God
Photo by satish nagapuri on Unsplash

India is still a predominantly polytheistic society. The various religious sects are characterized by which deity they primarily pray to. The richness of Hinduism is in the stories of the gods and their exploits. There is romance, conflict, espionage, heroism, cowardice and charity. All this is from deities that are still very relevant to today’s Hindu devotees. 

This movie tackles one of those stories and for those non-Hindis who find their way to this film, it seems like a run-of-the-mill superhero/fairytale offering. 

When you delve a bit deeper though, you can see why there is such passion from the characters vis-a-vis the actors portraying them. This is the basis of their faith. It would be like a Christian actor portraying Jesus or Mary. Motivation is ingrained from a very young age. No director has to supply it. 

Astra what?

Here come the spoilers! 

Ok so now that we have a primer on how to watch this movie, let’s dive into what this story is about. The director is creating what he calls the “Astraverse.” Think the Marvel Cinematic Universe but using Indian deities. This story centers around a group of ancient Indian sages that absorb the Brahm-shakti, a powerful energy. They all get the ability to wield an Astra, a powerful weapon.

As is always the case, one of them becomes too powerful, the Brahmastra, and has the power to destroy the whole planet. The other sages band together to collectively constrain the Brahmastra and keep it tame. This group is called the Brahmansh and has existed secretly for centuries, safeguarding a token that holds the Brahmastra. That token has been broken into three parts and their separation keeps the Brahmastra at bay.

Photo by Gúŕú śàí Pŕàkèśh on Unsplash

Enter Dev and Amrita, two members of the Brahmansh who fall in love but when Dev becomes power-hungry, Amrita battles him to prevent him from recombining the Brahmastra and conquering the entire world. Amrita defeats him but everyone assumes they are both destroyed in the battle. Secretly, Amrita survives and even more secretly gives birth to Dev’s baby. She had been pregnant the whole time!

Fast-forward to modern times: Our protagonist Shiva, who is an orphan from the wrong side of the tracks, falls in love with a very uptown girl, Isha. Together, they realize they are meant to do bigger things and there are evil forces working all around them that only they can stop. I won’t spoil the rest of the movie but it’s pretty fantastic and fantastical at the same time. 

What you may have missed:

  • 1. When we meet Shiva, he is dancing at a Dussehra festival. This is a festival that celebrates the battle where the 18-armed deity, Durga, riding a lion, defeats Mahishasura as he was transforming into a bull. I think that’s its own movie!
  • 2. The end of Dussehra signals the Hindi festival of light, Divali, a few weeks later. Signifies light conquering darkness. They refer to that concept a lot in the movie. 
  • 3. When we find Isha preparing her uncle’s Divali celebration, there is a dedication to Ravana who is a follower of Shiva (the god, not the movie character). In fact, Ravana is said to have 10 heads but they cut one off to pay tribute to Shiva. Sound familiar? 
  • 4. We see people touching the feet of elders. This is a sign of respect in Indian culture but we see the same action in cultures around the globe. It’s a show of reverence for elders. It’s quite common in the Middle East which is why Jesus washing the feet of beggars and prostitutes had such an impact. It was unheard of in their culture. 
  • 5.  When the Brahmanst all left the sanctuary, most left in cars. One of them left in a helicopter! They were RICH rich!
  • 6. The guru’s sanctuary gave off serious Xavier’s School for the Gifted in the X-men series. 
  • 7. When Shiva starts to practice how to make fire, he does so in a forest! That seems like the worst place to practice. Also, how long was he there? Halfway through the training montage, he ends up on a snowy field!
  • 8. At the end, Shiva slays the bull with a trident, exactly like the story of Durga, his patron god. 

Final thoughts

This movie was super exciting and campy in places. It has the requisite singing and dancing that is a staple of Bollywood movies but I can see how the directors wanted to take it up a notch. It’s worth the almost three hours of your time, even if you have to break it up into chunks! I can’t wait to see part 2!

“Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva” can be seen on Hulu in the U.S., Star+ in Latin America and Disney+ internationally.

Check out the trailer below.

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