When it comes to remakes of movies, the director and the audience face a dilemma of sorts. For the director, it’s the challenge of how much to adapt the story to their milieu. How much of the original content they ought to retain to acknowledge the remake, and how much of their oeuvre shadow do they add? Is it okay, for example, to shoot a scene exactly the way the original showed it? For the audience, especially those who’ve seen the original, the dilemma is only limited to wondering if they’d even want to see the remake. Once inside the darkness of the cinema paradiso, it’s best they leave behind the shadows of the earlier version – easier said than done. For those who haven’t seen the original, life is simpler. No baggage, no problem.
With director Karan Malhotra’s “Brothers”, the official Hindi remake of Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior”, there was no baggage here (as none for the superb “Drishyam”.) So, without bias, enter the dark, bleak world of Gary Fernandes (Jackie Shroff), who’s shuffling out of jail, having paid his dues for a drunken crime that’s shattered his family forever. He’s taken home by his younger son, Monty (Sidhart Malhotra), who’s not averse to the bottle himself. Gary, however, is on the wagon, and wants nothing more than seek forgiveness and redemption from his elder son, David (Akshay Kumar).
In comes the angle of mixed martial acts (MMA), that’s fought out in the dark alleys of Mumbai, underground, away from the jurisdiction, but thriving with a jurisprudence of its own. Gary is a has-been MMA fighter, while Monty fights actively in the rusted cages of despair and shattered bones. Enter the fun-to-watch-after-ages Kiran Kumar as the top-shot industrialist who manages get MMA legalized in India and launches the R2F (Right To Fight) championship. For this mega glitzy tournament, he scouts for fighters in India, who’ll stand up to the deadly fisticuffs of international MMA stars. Gary trains Monty for R2F, while David has his own piece of life shattered when his daughter’s medical treatment for a life-threatening ailment threatens to get derailed with his financial steam running out.
David, obviously, has been a MMA fighter himself, and decides to get into the fight to give his daughter a fighting chance. This, despite his wife, Jenny (Jacqueline Fernandes’) protestations and furrowed vexations. Backed by his coach Umesh (Ashutosh Rana), David gets into the R2F championship as well.
But hang on – back to the shattered family. The brothers hate each other, and their father’s racked with guilt, bringing the calamitous night that caused the family to cleave, to the fore. By now, you know where the story’s headed and it’s a given that the brothers will have a climactic face-off in the deadly ring of MMA. Karan Malhotra gives the story a truly over-the-top drama treatment, and for the most part, it works. There’s a place and time for subtlety, and this is not it. Which also results in some superbly constructed scenes. The dynamics in the scene where Jackie goes to ask for Akshay’s forgiveness is sparkling. I loved the placement of the actors here. Sidhart Malhotra is in the car, not wanting to meet his brother, but glowering from the car seat. Jackie is at the entrance of the old foyer, Jacqueline’s carrying her daughter up the stairs, and Akshay is following her. When Jackie whispers “David”, and Akshay turns around, the drama is superb. It gets better when Jackie realizes the small, adorable girl in the woman’s arms is his granddaughter. Right about the same time Jacqueline realizes and turns around to see her husband’s father. Their eye contact and the pain roils the scene, and when Jackie hears his grand daughter’s name, your heart breaks too.
The director also treats Akshay-Jacqueline’s story with surprising gentleness, also leading to the surprise package of the film – Jacqueline. Sans make up and glamour, she’s very good, emoting superbly as she tears up within, watching Akshay trying to be brave with their daughter-in-pain in the hospital. Jackie Shroff is the perfect Gary – as the struggling alcoholic, “bent chassis” (as a character in the movie describes him), he’s pitch perfect. Caught between his sons and yet bellowing out in joy for one of them during the tournament, he gets you emotionally invested. It’s also good fun to see him speak his “bhidu” language, in a way only he can.
Ashutosh Rana is as effective as ever, so why don’t we see him more often? So is Shefali Shah, as the mother who struggles to accept and own her husband’s philandering and drunken ways. Sidhart Malhotra is grittingly wired-up, though his angst and anger is never given much space. Kareena in a dance number is oomphaciously good, though the choreography is more sleep, less walk.
The movie, however, belongs to Akshay Kumar. In one of his best performances yet, he is a live wire. He’s knocks his role out with the finesse and grace of a seasoned all-rounder. When he’s with his daughter, trying to distract her from the pain, he’s tender, his lips smiling, but his eyes shattered with pain. When he confronts his father and brother, he’s a refractory of anger and pain, lashing out without catharsis or guilt, and you know there’s so much more from where it came from. When he enters the practice ring, you can see the hesitation in his body language, he’s so good. When one of the fighters attacks his father during the tournament, Akshay’s body and face change in the whip of a moment. He becomes animal-like, his eyes growling as he looks at his father from inside the fighting cage. He snarls, and his worry hits you and Jackie with equal intensity. And when he fights, he shows why he’s India’s best action star, too. Agile, spry, and deadly, he takes your breath away with his action.
As do the well-crafted action sequences. They’re tough, hard-hitting, and compelling. And when bones break and shatter, you wince out loud. Which is why, when the director chooses to resolve the extravagantly built-up fight scene the way he does, your jaw hits the ground and your cinematic heart shatters. Why did Karan Malhotra give “Brothers” a Munnabhai climax?
And the other tinnitus inducing question – why did composers Ajay-Atul not stick to some subtle background music, when the drama’s so over the top? There’s a beautiful Sonu Nigam (why don’t we hear him more often?) – Neeti Mohan duet (“Sapna Jahaan”) that’s lilting and melodious. But that’s it. Their background music punches, roars, thunders, claps, bursts and shatters inside your ears. Which is why, as I came out on to the road after the movie, the traffic noise seemed so much lesser and subdued. Thank you brothers Ajay-Atul, for the silver lining.
Watch the trailer of Brothers here: