Subconsciously reaching for scraps of paper, Albert makes origami swans and other birds. He consciously gifts them to those towards whom he feels affection or casually leaves them around. Albert (Vijay Sethupathi), a man of few words and a secret, returns to his deceased mother’s home in Mumbai on Christmas Eve.
Wandering the city, absorbing the colours, lights and festivities, Albert meets the lovely but melancholy Maria (Katrina Kaif). This chance encounter with Maria and her daughter Annie (Pari Maheshwari Sharma) makes Albert’s Christmas merry, especially when she brings home a stranger for a drink while ruing the absence of her husband Jerome.
A festival soon turns into a menacing, dark and complicated mystery. Director Sriram Raghavan is associated with the delicious world of plot twists and wily characters, last seen in the black comedy thriller Andhadhun (2018). This time, Raghavan and co-writers Pooja Ladha Surti, Arijit Biswas and Anukriti Pandey base the screenplay on Frederic Dard’s French novel Le Monte-Charge.
While the book was set in Paris in the 1960s, Merry Christmas (which has been made in Hindi as well as Tamil) plays out in 1980s Mumbai. A slow build-up of characters and their interactions includes a delightful scene of Maria and Albert dancing. Kaif captures Maria’s fragility and cheerfulness with an openness that is rare to find in her performances, which is also buoyed up Sethupathi’s easygoing style and dexterity. The odd pairing works, and successfully carries the story’s conceit.
Albert says little, conveying a lot through his expressions and gestures, which comes together in a crucial scene at the police station. Sanjay Kapoor, Radhika Apte, Ashwini Kalsekar, Vinay Pathak and Luke Kenny play characters that push along Albert and Maria’s stories.
The 144-minute film is steeped in Hitchcockian tones and a 1980s Hindi movie palate (filmed by Madhu Neelakandan). Raghavan leaves little hints and sly clues along the way for the observant viewer to pick up on. Though not as wicked or surprising as Andhadhun, Merry Christmas has intrigue, is punctuated with black humour and is held together by the USP of Sethupathi and Kaif cast together as well as Raghavan’s signature crafting.