Brahmastra’s 11-Year Journey

Ayan Mukerji, Ranbir Kapoor and the rest of the film’s team have waited a long time for the first film of the Astraverse trilogy to release
Brahmastra’s 11-Year Journey

There’s a lot of speculation about whether Brahmastra Part One: Shiva will break the deadlock at the box office for Hindi cinema, but there’s a lot more to this film than the numbers. Sure, it may be among the most expensive films produced by Bollywood – the budget is rumoured to be around Rs 400 crore — but Brahmastra is also a film that has been in the making since 2011. Here’s a look back at the long journey that Brahmastra has been on since its inception. 

The idea of an Indian science fiction film, involving superheroes and magic, came to director Ayan Mukerji while he was working on the script for his second film, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013). He started writing out a story while he was in Shimla in 2011. “I’ve always felt a very powerful energy, a strong spirituality in our mountains. And I truly believe that it is from the energy of the Himalayas that the vision of Brahmastra was born,” Mukerji said while promoting the film. 

Mukerji spent the next three years working on the story and Brahmastra was first announced in 2014. It was slated to release in December 2016, but the project faced numerous delays. Around the same time that Ranbir Kapoor was cast as the lead in Brahmastra, he also started working on Sanju (2018). In a recent interview, Mukerji said, “He [Kapoor] was about to start preparations with me but he decided to start Sanju first. I was very angry. I was happy that he is working with Raju Hirani but what about my project?”

From 2017, Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and other members of the cast started working in earnest on Brahmastra and a new release date, in August 2019, was set. There were two rounds of shooting in Bulgaria in 2018. In March that year, Mukerji revealed on Instagram that his original title for Brahmastra had been ‘Dragon’ and the lead character was initially named Rumi. “We gave Ranbir a haircut, and Rumi became…Shiva,” wrote Mukerji on Instagram in 2018. The other foreign locations where Brahmastra has been shot are London and Edinburgh, in the United Kingdom. In July 2019, the crew of Brahmastra arrived in Varanasi to shoot the film. 

By this time, it was clear that the release date would need to be pushed back again. This time, December 2019 was announced, but that also proved to be unfeasible. Mukerji’s vision was ambitious and the project required multiple reshoots as well as complicated visual effects (VFX), which were time-consuming. No new date was announced, and work on the film continued until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shooting had to be halted in March 2020 and the team was forced to cool its heels until November of that year before they could resume work. In 2021, while still shooting for the film, Kapoor contracted Covid-19, which again interrupted the shooting schedule. Ultimately, Brahmastra finally wrapped up on March 29, 2022. 

The Brahmastra team has been careful about keeping the film’s secrets and little was known about the film beyond its star cast — which includes Amitabh Bachchan and Nagarjuna — until the first trailer released in May 2022. There were rumours of Deepika Padukone having a cameo in the film, which Mukerji has made clear is not on the cards. However, Shah Rukh Khan will be making a guest appearance. This was confirmed by actor Mouni Roy who plays the antagonist Junoon in Brahmastra.

Speaking about the delays that have plagued the film, Kapoor said in an interview, “Where Brahmastra’s delays are concerned, I think when we started the film, we were not prepared for the animal that it was. It had too many special effects, and where the story was, we didn’t expect that. So we were learning as we were making it.” 

Brahmastra’s visual effects have been done by DNEG, a British-Indian special effects studio with seven Oscars to its name. Their previous projects include movies like Dune (2021), Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and Inception (2010), as well as the recent series, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022). Mukerji’s film is DNEG’s first Indian project. Given the studio’s past projects, the expectations from Brahmastra’s VFX are very high.

For Mukerji, the grandeur of the project is something upon which he would not compromise. “From the start, that vision was to create a very new amazing kind of world for our Indian audiences with Brahmastra — a truly cinematic spectacle unlike anything, that had been created out of the Indian film industry before,” said Mukerji in one of the promotional videos. “Even in its earliest form, Brahamstra was a ridiculously ambitious idea. Nothing like it had ever been created out of India before. So there was no roadmap of how to do what I wanted to do. I realised very early that the visual effects and the scale of the movie I was imagining was totally out of reach, beyond the limits of where technology and film budgets were capped in India. But I always believed that if I somehow managed to overcome these challenges and if I got the film right, Brahamstra would be truly a pioneering and groundbreaking film. A film that our country would be proud of.”

Eleven years after Mukerji first came up with the story, Brahmastra will finally release this week.

This story was first published on September 9th, 2022. 

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