After several COVID-induced delays, Ayan Mukerji’s magnum opus “Brahmastra,” starring Bollywood A-listers Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, has locked a theatrical release date of Sept. 9, 2022.
The film, which also stars Nagarjuna Akkineni and Mouni Roy, will release in the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada languages.
The project is set in contemporary India, where a secret society called the Brahmansh have guarded ‘Astras’ (divine weapons) created in ancient India for generations. The most powerful among these, the Brahmastra, is now waking up and it threatens to destroy the universe.
Based on Indian mythology, the story is constructed as a trilogy with the first part following the protagonist Shiva (Kapoor), who is in love with Isha (Bhatt). Their lives are changed forever when Shiva learns that he has a mysterious connection to the Brahmastra and a great power within him that he doesn’t understand just yet — the power of fire. The film recounts Shiva’s adventures as he journeys into the world of Astras and discovers his destiny as the divine hero of the universe.
Mukerji is one of India’s brightest filmmaking talents who debuted as a writer-director with hit relationship drama “Wake Up Sid” (2009), starring Kapoor and Konkona Sen Sharma, followed by blockbuster musical romance “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani” (2013) with Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Kalki Koechlin.
“Brahmastra” is Mukerji’s dream project that he had been developing prior to “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.”
“‘Brahmastra,’ is very inspired by Indian mythology and Indian culture and set in the modern world with modern characters, so in many ways, it is a modern mythology of our own,” Mukerji told Variety. “And in that modern spectrum, Mr. Bachchan plays the role of what Professor Dumbledore is to Harry Potter, or what Gandalf the wizard is to Frodo Baggins — he plays the wise teacher guide, who helps Shiva’s character to actualize his powers and find his destiny.”
India has made very few films in the superhero genre, including the “Krrish” franchise starring Hrithik Roshan and “Ra.One” with Shah Rukh Khan. And those have largely been based on sci-fi or futuristic elements and not Indian mythology.
“I felt like there was something there that had just not been done, and it surprised me that nobody’s done it, nobody’s really touched in a modern way this fantasy, larger than life cinema on the ancient powers of this ancient land that is India,” said Mukerji.
Besides Harry Potter and “The Lord of the Rings,” Mukerji cites Marvel and the legends around the Hindu god Shiva among his influences, describing himself as a “geeky reader” whilst growing up.
“This exact combination of East and West, the way that those influences came together, the film has many different colors, but at some level, it’s a very new color,” says Mukerji. “It’s a very original film and I really feel quite proud of that at some level, because a lot of the big stuff that’s come out of the West is based on some comic book literature, or it’s based on a really best-selling book series. ‘Brahmastra’ came from nothing, there’s no strict basis for it.”
Mukerji believes that India had previously been held back by insufficient technology in attempting to create films in the genre. But now the country has the knowhow for the filmmaker’s “Astraverse,” and is a go to post-production destination for FX-laden Hollywood content.
The “Brahmastra” trilogy is produced by Fox Star Studios, Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, Prime Focus and Starlight Pictures. While the producers declined to disclose the budget for the first part of the trilogy, Variety understands from industry sources that it is roughly INR3 billion ($40 million). Mukerji feels that when Hollywood studio heads watch the film, they will experience the effect of having seen a $100 million project.
“In the mainstream world of entertainment, I really think that ‘Brahmastra’ is that step that takes us from India towards the West, where they can appreciate Indian culture and our inherent storytelling and still get enough bang for their buck,” says Mukerji.
Fox Star Studios is now part of the Disney group and Mukerji hopes to build a relationship with the parent company. “I was very excited and remain very excited by the idea that Disney is now sitting on top of what it is that I’m trying to build in India,” said Mukerji. “That’s the goal, frankly, to put it out there, build, on the back of ‘Brahmastra,’ out of India, hopefully a global pop culture phenomenon like Marvel has become. I’m unlocking the full working relationship with Disney. It is a work in progress.”
The second and third parts of “Brahmastra” are due in 2024 and 2026.