Five years in the making, director Ayan Mukerji's long-awaited superhero film, the first in a planned trilogy, is ambitious in scope and purpose.
Rooting his story in ancient Indian mythology, an abundant source for rich, original tales many of which remain unexplored, he deserves all the praise for having the vision and courage to turn it into a big screen spectacular.
But Mukerji, who is known mostly for his acclaimed slice-of-life dramas such as Wake Up Sid (2009) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), borrows so heavily from Hollywood filmmakers, both in structure and visually, that the audience is left with no choice but to make comparisons.
And Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva is no big budget Marvel spectacle.
That's a shame, because the film's premise — and A-list cast of performers, including leads Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, and veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan — has so much going for it.
Bachchan, who's as beloved for acting as his baritone voice, narrates the introduction.
Centuries ago, the story goes, a group of sages learnt to harness the power of light and use them as weapons.
Their powers were derived from the elements — fire, water, wind and earth — as well as the power of animals.
The group, who call themselves the Brahmansh, also developed a weapon, called the Brahmastra, so powerful that the person who wields it could destroy the entire universe.
A member of the Brahmansh tries to steal the Brahmastra for his own gain, but was successfully stopped.
To prevent a potential disaster from ever happening, the other members split the Brahmastra into three pieces, closely guarding it as they blended into contemporary society.
Cut to present-day Mumbai where orphan Shiva (Kapoor) is haunted by visions. One night, he meets Isha (Bhatt) at a party where he's DJ-ing and sparks immediately fly between the pair.
But as their relationship grows, so do the intensity of Shiva's visions, in which he sees a malevolent being, Junoon (Mouni Roy), who is brutally hunting down people in her quest for the Brahmastra.
A concerned Isha decides to help Shiva interpret his apparitions and the two set off on a journey that will eventually lead them to members of the Brahmansh who, it turns out, have a lot more in common with Shiva than just his visions.
As the lead, Kapoor more than carries the film with his easy charm and smooth dance moves.
Bhatt's Isha is the perfect foil to his Shiva and their chemistry crackles every time they're together, making it easy to appreciate how the two fell in love while filming, got married and and are now expecting their first child together.
But while much of the story is focused on Shiva's backstory as well as the discovery of his true identity, we know so little of Isha's, besides the fact that her family is rich and that she's visiting from London.
Then she falls in love with a DJ who she decides on a whim is worth risking her life for.
Other women are given similar treatment. Veteran actress Dimple Kapadia has just about two lines. Meanwhile, the main villain Roy is stuck in a perpetual glare, doing her best Scarlet Witch imitation, complete with glowing red eyes.
As the leader of the Brahmansh, Bachchan more than lives up to his role and gets to throw a few punches.
But the highlight of this nearly three-hour film has to be cameos by South Indian superstar Nagarjuna Akkineni and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. Too bad Khan's scenes appear so early in the film.
Bhrahmastra: Part One – Shiva is a tantalising prospect of a great, long-overdue Indian superhero franchise.
But it needs a bit more fine-tuning in its storytelling and better visual effects to truly stand on its own.