With its themes of familial conflict, redemption, and forgiveness – all set against a sports backdrop – the Tom Hardy-starrer Warrior was a Bollywood remake waiting to happen. Think about it: it’s got an alcoholic deadbeat father, a pair of warring siblings, and a dying child.
Brothers, directed by Karan Malhotra, sticks to the same themes and works with the same clichés, but it also amps up the melodrama and restructures the original template with the purpose of milking the emotional conflict.
Critically, Malhotra spends a huge chunk of the first half on the early years of his protagonists, a pair of brothers, David and Monty Fernandes, whose lives are thrown out of balance after a tragic incident involving their drunk ex-fighter dad Gary (Jackie Shroff) and their unfortunate mother (a terrific Shefali Shah). As was evidenced in his 2012 debut, a remake of Agneepath starring Hrithik Roshan, it becomes clear once again in Brothers that Malhotra is no fan of subtlety. Throughout its 2 hours 40 minutes running time, an overwrought background score provides helpful cues to guide you through the emotions, as if you really needed to be told what to feel in specific scenarios.
By the time they’re grown-ups, the siblings are estranged. Monty (Sidharth Malhotra) is an underground street fighter who takes his repentant father in when he’s released from a long stint in prison. Meanwhile, David (Akshay Kumar) is now a devoted family man and a school teacher, and still hurting from the events of his childhood he seeks no links to Gary or Monty.
We’re subjected to too much exposition on the brutal sport of mixed martial arts fighting in the lead up to a big championship that dominates the final act of the film. Both men – through wildly differing circumstances – sign up to compete in the high-profile tournament, and Malhotra gives us impressive training montages featuring the actors. Inevitably, the brothers find themselves facing off against each other in the final round of the championship, where years of pent-up anger and unresolved issues lead to an expectedly cathartic finale.
Like Warrior, this is that rare sports film in which you don’t want either fighter to lose. But Brothers never fully exploits the delicious complexity of its premise, and as a result it doesn’t quite earn the redemptive emotional wallop of its climax. What the film lacks in terms of nuance and irony, however, is made up for in the thrilling freestyle fight sequences. The punches and blows feel real, the look of pain on the actors’ faces eerily authentic.
The film benefits also from the compelling performances Malhotra draws from his central cast. Akshay Kumar is refreshingly restrained in an understated role, a joy to watch for those like me who’ve been critical of his mostly hyper-comic performances. Sidharth Malhotra brings quiet intensity and an unpredictable fire to his part as the brooding tough-guy. Both actors convey a delicate fragility that’s essential to your being invested in their characters. Jackie Shroff too, his performance although high-pitched, is very good as their shambling, broken-down father.
Brothers, despite its contrivances, leaves you choked more than once. How can it not, with all that unabashed emotional manipulation? Throwing in an item song, repeated flashbacks, and too many cutaways of an anguished wife (Jacqueline Fernandez), Malhotra lays it on thick to a premise already inherently melodramatic. He’s further Bollywood-izing a plot that’s already ‘too Bollywood’ to begin with. The result is a film that’s trying a little too hard.
I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.