Wow, Bollywood. You had one job here. One job.
Brothers, as you’ve probably heard, is an official remake of the 2011 Hollywood film Warrior, starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. I remember watching it four years ago when it released in India and thinking that its melodramatic elements might perhaps work really well here — after all, ‘two estranged brothers’ is a premise we’ve all grown up watching.
All director Karan Malhotra, helming his sophomore project, had to do here was to copy the original scene by scene, simply change the context, and refrain from adding any embellishments. That’s it.
But, just like a younger sibling who feels the need to create his or her own identity, Brothers isn’t content with being just a remake. It’s not enough simply to Indianise the setting and the characters as well as add songs (at least half of which are unnecessary) to the narrative — it needs, for some reason, to amp up the melodrama all the way up to 11.
The result: Brothers, which should really have been a sure thing, ends up a cringeworthy, melodramatic mess. It’s a soap opera masquerading as a boxing drama. It is the Hamari Adhuri Kahani of sports films.
(Warning: a few spoilers ahead)
Consider the first 45 minutes of the movie, in which former alcoholic fighter Gary (Jackie Shroff, as a character played by Nick Nolte in the original) is released from jail. His hands tremble and he spends an excruciating amount of time coming to terms with his deceased wife Maria (Shefali Shah) not being around anymore. He mutters and mumbles a lot and I don’t think I understood more than 30% of what he actually said. Seriously, there must’ve been about 10 minutes of screen-time dedicated exclusively to Shroff doddering around, muttering something that sounded like “MARIAAGRBHGRBHHHHHSOSORRYGRHHBBRRRBRRHHHH.”
He is at his home, accompanied by his younger son Monty (Sidharth Malhotra), a silent young man whose idea of glowering is to look aggressively confused. Gary’s older son, David (Akshay Kumar), is a physics teacher who hides a scarred and heavily-tattooed body under a shirt and trousers by day while participating in underground street fights by night. He has a good reason for this: his wife (Jacqueline Fernandez) and he work three jobs just to pay for their daughter’s dialysis, and street-fighting gets him three months worth of pay in a few hours. What’s Monty’s motivation to similarly participate in street-fights, you ask? No idea. Probably because looking aggressively confused is the cool thing to do.
The two brothers hate each other, explained by a long back-story that is essentially a string of montages filled with plenty of glycerine, an omnipresent Ajay-Atul orchestral score that never shuts up, and shots of a younger Gary bursting through his front door like an alcoholic, tapori version of Kramer from Seinfeld. Also, they seem to live in a modest house that has no ceilings and unusually large windows, given how nearly every scene there is accompanied by lightning that is visible in every room from various angles.
But these problems are merely laughably bad, which somehow Brothers isn’t content being, having set its sights on being criminally horrendous. So the second half, which involves showing us a mixed martial arts (MMA) tournament called Right 2 Fight (R2F) that is taking place for the first time in India, is full of fight scenes.
This, really, is where the film should’ve redeemed itself — except it doesn’t. In a marathon tournament taking place over 48 hours, we see the brothers — who have entered the tournament for different reasons — fighting top MMA fighters from around the world (all of whom, frankly, look tougher than either of them; but hey, I guess ‘size doesn’t matter’ is one of the film’s takeaways). However, the fights themselves seem lacklustre and occasionally hard to swallow. In one unbelievable scene, for example, Monty knocks out a top-ranked contender within seconds in a punch that looks so obviously staged and fake that it destroys the illusion that these brothers are actual fighters.
There is no good acting in this film at all. The best you can say is that Kumar, with all his years of experience and impressive fitness levels, is bearable to watch. Malhotra, who fails miserably at emulating his counterpart Hardy’s internalised rage (not his fault entirely; Brothers doesn’t give him as good a reason), is nevertheless not entirely offensive; neither is Fernandez, in a minor and largely forgettable role. However, while the rest of the cast — presumably aware of the garbage they’ve agreed to act in — does enough to justify paychecks, Shroff’s awful scenery-chewing brings down the class average considerably (future filmmakers who cast him may want to consider adding subtitles to his lines).
Malhotra’s directorial debut was Agneepath (2012), a remake of the 1990 film starring Amitabh Bachchan and Danny Denzongpa, which made a lot of money but was regarded as loud, hammy, and extremely melodramatic by many. A critic friend remarked after the screening that Brothers made Agneepath look like Sholay. I agreed instantly, even though I haven’t seen Malhotra’s remake.