The film Sadak 2 (and Ali Bhatt‘s performance in it) is something that everyone seems to have quietly swept under the rug. Two years and well-deserved fame later, it remains the saddest stain on a filmography that also includes Student of the Year and a film literally named Kalank. But while everyone admits she put herself in a compromised position on Sadak 2, considering her father Mahesh directed Bhatt decades past his prime, there’s no excuse for how Bhatt is often credited as the most talented actor of her generation , someone who can’t perform poorly even in Manyavar commercials, was the subject of director Ayan Mukerji’s fantasy epic Brahmastra.
Brahmastra, which hit theaters last weekend eight solid years after it was first announced, is a haunting theatrical experience that has the power to shatter both your eardrums and your will to live. It’s a lengthy, disjointed film that routinely steals from all obvious sources – Harry Potter, the MCU, Star Wars, even Avatar: The Last Airbender – and seems to have made sure no one will notice. In fact, director Ayan Mukerji has so little respect for the audience (and so little faith in his own film) that he feels the need to spoon out every last drop of performance so loudly that when you leave the theater you’re groggy, stupid, you will think in Sanskrit.
And no one screams louder than Bhatt’s Isha, who, when not clamoring for her boyfriend Shiva at the top of her lungs, tearfully expresses her Parvati-like devotion to him, literally within 24 hours of their first meeting. In those 24 hours, Shiva (played by Ranbir Kapoor) has eerily chased her through a party, manipulated her into giving him brownie points by telling her he takes care of orphans, and subsequently her on a rooftop exposed. The next day, he reveals to Isha the great “Raaz” of his life – that he has had disturbing visions for as long as he can remember – and promises that he will never hide a secret from her again.
Shiva immediately breaks this promise when Isha catches him playing around with fire on a trip to Varanasi. He explains to her that he has a ‘rishta’ with ‘aag’. And judging by the pained look on Isha’s face, he might as well have told her he was having a ‘rishta’ with another woman. To be fair, their anger is justified. She was specifically promised that there would be no more secrets between them and then Shiva told her that he is immune to flame! But what happens next is even more breathtaking.
With no reason to still be with a (mysterious, overpowering) man she just met, Isha tells Shiva that she knows he is special and that if fate has brought them together at this particular point in time , it must be their duty to make his bid. I know this film was probably conceived before anyone involved in it had even heard the word “awakened,” but to write it that way would be outdated even in the era Brahmastra draws from.
Isha is later referred to as a “button” – a literal inanimate object – required by Shiva to serve as a catalyst in his journey. In the film’s ridiculous climax action sequence, she accompanies him onto the battlefield, lighter in hand, ready to bring it to life on the fly – he can’t do it himself I suppose? – and help Shiva to ignite his powers.
Yet another mundane task is outsourced to Isha when she is with Shiva at Guruji’s home for gifted youth in Himachal Pradesh, deep in the second half of the film. She is to go back to Shiva’s Chawl in Mumbai, secure his dead mother’s last remaining belongings, stuff them in a holdall and bring everything back to him. So, after about two hours of being forcibly inserted into a life-changing drama she never asked for, Isha is asked to give Shiva space to focus on his training, as if she’s the kind of distraction to be in which is Ramya Krishnan’s character ligers described as “Chudail”. In Mumbai, she is attacked by one of the villain’s three henchmen, and even then – apart from Shiva – the film refuses to allow Isha to save herself. Instead, it sends two of Guruji’s superpowered disciples to save her skin in a blatant act of Deus Ex Machina. Brahmastra often relies on plot comforts like this rather than developing characters through the story.
And for a film whose mission statement is a twist on Harry Potter’s “love is the greatest superpower” mumbo-jumbo, Brahmastra treats the romantic arc of Isha and Shiva with the same care that Karan Johar gives to the less popular guest on his talk show. In fact, in the Koffee with Karan episodes, in which she doesn’t even star, Bhatt is treated better than she is in Brahmastra, a film that seems to be constantly chanting “mantras” to herself to find ways to draw her into the story.
Isha’s non-participation in the film is one thing – Brahmastra passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, of course – but didn’t Bhatt have a say in her character in real life either? Or maybe it was, and the others just didn’t listen. It can be argued that Mukerji, like the rest of the film’s elements, plays Isha’s storyline close to his chest. However, we mustn’t judge a character by their hypothetical arc in nonexistent future films, but by what we’ve been shown in this one.
And to think that Bhatt’s career is at its peak as we speak. Isha is the kind of arm-candy character you’d expect to see in some of the more aggressively “hero-driven” films that Bollywood likes to make. But this is the sad realization that Brahmastra leaves you with: Shiva may be the chosen one, sure, but nothing about this film is unique; In fact, the mistreatment of its female lead is just one of the many traits it shares with the worst kind of entertainment the industry has to offer.
Post Credits Scene is a column where we analyze new releases each week, with a particular focus on context, crafting, and characters. Because there is always something to fix when the dust has settled.