Remakes are a tricky thing to pull off, and as anyone who has seen the 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” will tell you, doing a carbon copy of the original is always a recipe for disaster. However, just shifting the setting to another culture on the other side of the world helps. “Brothers”, Bollywood’s remake of 2011’s “Warrior”, avoids falling into that trap, ultimately resulting in a remake that both stands on its own and which proves surprisingly effective in equaling its American ancestor.
Bollywood star Akshay Kumar portrays David Fernandes, a high school physics teacher who enters a winner-take-all MMA tournament for the sake of his ailing daughter, only to find himself competing against the brother that he holds a bitter grudge against, Monty, played by Sidharth Malhotra. Jackie Shroff steps into the role of the sibling’s widowed father, Gary, with his deceased wife Maria portrayed in flashbacks by Shefali Shah, while Jacqueline Fernandez appears in the role of David’s wife Jenny.
Rounding out the cast are the opponents David and Monty face in the tournament – pro-wrestlers Shad Gaspard and Conan Stevens as heavy-hitters Ronnie Cross and Luca, “Bloodsport II” and “John Wick” star Daniel Bernhardt as Max Potter, stunt performer Chan Griffin in the role of Chinese Shaolin fighter Tenzin Yana, and legendary Dutch superkicker Ron Smoorenburg in the role of Italian contender “The Hammer”.
High school physics teacher David Fernandes has made every effort he can to distance himself from his father Gary and illegitimate half-brother Monty, who was born from one of Gary’s extra-marital affairs. Despite this, David’s mother Maria welcomed Monty as her own son and tried to keep the family together. However, Gary’s alcoholism proved too great an impediment to her efforts, ultimately leading to Maria’s accidental death after a misplaced slap from Gary one terrible night.
Following Gary’s release from prison many years later, he is able to make amends with Monty, but David wants nothing to do with him, and he holds a further grudge towards Monty, believing him to be the catalyst of Maria’s demise. However, David and Monty’s paths are destined to converge in India’s first major MMA competition, Right 2 Fight. Monty earns his spot in the tournament after an online video of him displaying his skills in an underground fight turns him into a national celebrity, while David sees the prize money that will go to the winner of Right 2 Fight as his last shot to save his ailing daughter, who is afflicted with a dire kidney disease.
As you can tell from the synopsis, “Warrior” and “Brothers” share the same overall backbone, but the latter makes the wise decision to incorporate enough changes to carve out its own distinct identity, and just the new setting in India by itself makes it feel uniquely its own movie.
In particular, the film’s extended flashback sequence to David and Monty’s childhood gives “Brothers” its own spirit – we get to meet the siblings’ mother, see her tragic death, and this time around their falling out feels that much more bitter because of their father’s direct role in her demise. While Tommy stayed the closest to his mother in “Warrior”, the role of the younger sibling in “Brothers” is flipped on its head – Monty is willing to forgive Gary’s sins, but continues to resent David for his rejection and his failure to realize that “she was my mother, too.” The age difference between the two brothers is also much more stark here, indeed perhaps a tad too much (with his prickly grey beard, David frankly looks old enough to be Monty’s father).
The soundtrack of the film is another of its strong points. “Gaye Jaa” plays throughout the flashback sequence and at various points throughout the film, with both Mohammed Irfan and Shreya Goshal lending their voices, and it’s at once both entrancing and tragic, almost like a Hindu chant that has worked its way into the film. Whenever it’s absent from the soundtrack, the “Brothers Anthem” steps in to get the audience’s blood pumping during the fight sequences and training montages like an Indian “Fight to Survive”, and the film is almost worth seeing for these two songs alone (which, unusual for a Bollywood flick, aren’t accompanied by a song and dance number, though one does indeed pop up!).
While the first half of the film sets up the back story of David and Monty, the latter half is wall-to-wall action in the cage of Right 2 Fight, and this is an area where “Brothers” arguably betters “Warrior”. Rookie martial artist Tom Hardy proved himself a beast in an MMA cage, and real-life UFC fighters Nate Marquardt and Anthony Johnson each lent their skills to the climactic tournament. However, for the most part, the opponents he and Brendan battled in Sparta apart from each other were given precious little development and ended up being little more than obstacles in the way of the two brothers facing each other for the first time in years. If “Warrior” was channeling “Rocky”, “Brothers” is going more for “Bloodsport”. The tournament is now an international competition, and the action choreography is more stylized this time.
Justin Yu and Emmanuel Manzanares direct the film’s MMA combat with assistance from Eric Brown and Vlad Rimburg (whose online collection of action shorts is one of the best reasons to have a YouTube account), and lovers of martial arts action are sure to go home with a smile on their faces. Like Tommy before him, Monty KO’s his first adversary with one punch, and the way the crowd reacts is almost enough to qualify it as a national holiday.
One element that carries over from “Warrior” is how seemingly unstoppable the younger brother is when he gets going, while the older brother comes into the competition as more of an underdog. In the latter case, David faces two opponents who more than give him a run for his money and provide two of the better fight sequences in the film. The first is a Shaolin fighter from China portrayed by stuntman Chan Griffin, who keeps David on his toes with his unpredictable and Scott Adkins-worthy kicking skills and a ferocity unbecoming of his tiny stature. The second is an Italian fighter known as “The Hammer” played by the amazing and respected Ron Smoorenburg, and their duel finishes out with quite the money shot.
Of course, like “Warrior”, there’s only one way that this competition can end, with the estranged brothers facing off in the final round, and while their battle is engaging enough, I questioned whether it managed to fully capture the emotional potency that made its predecessor’s finale a tissue box’s worst nightmare. Essentially, the tournament of each film improves on the weakness of the other – a more thrilling main competition in “Brothers”, a more powerful final match in “Warrior”, and in either case, the area where each film excels pretty easily compensates for their respective Achilles Heel.
While comparisons to “Warrior” are unavoidable, “Brothers” is more than able to stand on its own. Deviating from its predecessor enough to establish its own style, it thrills with spectacular action and captivates with an ethereal and chest-thumping soundtrack. Just try to fight the urge to shift into training mode when the “Brothers Anthem” kicks in – expeditions to the top of Mount Everest have been accomplished with greater ease!
- Akshay Kumar is a practitioner of Taekwondo, Karate, and Muay Thai, and has performed many of his own stunts throughout his career in action films, leading to his Bollywood nickname “India’s Jackie Chan”.
- Akshay produced the documentary series “Seven Deadly Arts with Akshay Kumar”, with each of the series’ seven episodes showcasing a different martial art, and included an appearance by Kanishka Sharma of the Shaolin Temple of India.
- Sidharth Malhotra put on 10 kg (22 lbs) of muscle for the film, while Akshay Kumar lost the same amount to appear like he hadn’t fought in a long time.
- The film was released on India’s Independence Day, August 15th.