A ‘Merry Christmas’ in Mumbai is Interrupted by a Mysterious Murder and Captivating Performances

  • Katrina Kaif and Vijay Sethupathi shine in this Hindi-Tamil film directed by Sriram Raghavan.

“Merry Christmas” is riddled with singing birds, butter biscuits, fainting fits, record players, shared whiskies, unlikely eyewitnesses, and parallel universes, but it works. 

Directed by Sriram Raghavan and produced under Tips Films and Matchbox Pictures, starring Katrina Kaif as Maria, Vijay Sethupathi as Albert, Tinnu Anand as Yadhoom uncle, and Pari Sharma as Annie, this crime thriller with a romantic underpinning revolves around two strangers whose fates intertwine on a fateful Christmas Eve. 

Based on Frédéric Dard’s French novel “Le Monte-charge” (Bird in a Cage), “Merry Christmas” was filmed simultaneously in Hindi and Tamil, making Sethupati an ideal choice for the male lead.

In 1980s Bombay, Albert returns home after seven years, only to be greeted with the news of his mother’s recent passing by a neighbor uncle. Uncle (Tinnu Anand) hands him a bottle of homemade wine named “Yadhoom,” and Albert sets out to explore the town on Christmas Eve. 

At a bar, he encounters a stranger meant to meet Maria, a woman with a mute child named Annie. The stranger cancels the blind date upon seeing Annie, asking Albert to relay the message. Albert shares the missive with Maria, and they bond while watching a movie. Maria invites Albert to celebrate Christmas Eve at her apartment. 

As they share their stories, Albert reveals his troubled past with Rosie, while Maria talks about her abusive husband Jerome. They have a few drinks together and return to Albert’s home. 

Upon their return to Maria’s house, they find Jerome dead in her apartment. Albert, fearing implication due to his criminal past, leaves after wiping off all his fingerprints but returns to find that Jerome’s body is missing. 

As events unfold, suspicions arise, and Albert discovers Maria’s elaborate alibi to frame Jerome’s death as a suicide. The complex web of deceit unfolds in the police headquarters, under the watchful eyes of an astute Mumbai police inspector (Vinay Pathak), leaving a trail of unanswered questions as the plot thickens or crumbles like a butter-cookie.

Katrina Kaif, in her dusty pink Boho floral dress, embodies the role of Maria, shifting seamlessly between “bubbly,” “pensive,” and “hysterical” personality, portraying a woman who leaves no stone unturned to protect her daughter from an abusive husband.

Vijay Sethupathi, with his understated looks and “involved” acting style, greatly enhanced by his heavy Tamil-accented English with an almost “flat” slightly off-key timbre, delivers a compelling performance. 

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Radhika Apte appears as Rosie in a cameo, adding depth to the storyline. Sanjay Kapoor’s portrayal of Ronnie adds intrigue to the plot by playing a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who intentionally leaving his wallet in Maria’s living room. It is unsettling to see how Ronnie’s wife genuinely believes that her husband loves to “hep” damsels in distress, and also jarring to hear how many times the  holy greeting “Merry Christmas” is exchanged in the movie when circumstances are unholy and sinister.

In a way, I am glad that the movie did not release during last Christmas because I was in Mumbai for the holidays, and it would have spoiled my memories of Christmas in Mumbai, walking back home with friends and family at night from St. Anthony’s church after midnight mass. Going for a late-night movie at the art deco Regal theater in Colaba, when all was good and merry in Mumbai. 

The Mumbai of my childhood. The Mumbai of my safe haven. The Mumbai of my happy schooldays and a wonderful family life. The title track “Merry Christmas” and “Rat Akeli thi” add to the suspense of the script. 

“Merry Christmas” is worth a watch with captivating performances, cinematography, decent storytelling, and an interesting weave of emotions.

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

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