After a brawl on the Delhi metro (“This is called self-defense”) and an intertitle that could not be bothered (“Welcome to the world of south India”), Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan parks itself in Hyderabad. Bhaijaan has barely been introduced to Bhagya’s family as her to-be husband when another piece of good news is relayed. Bhagya’s grandmother, who’s been in a coma for eight years, has unexpectedly awoken. A good omen, everyone agrees. But right after dinner, there’s an update: grandma is dead. Now, this might sound contrived, but to me it makes perfect sense. The old lady woke up, realized she was in a Farhad Samji film, did the only sensible thing and exited.
At least I know this for sure now: Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan is an actual film. Nothing in the run-up to the release suggested it was. Not that parody of a title. Not the sight of Salman Khan, face obscured by cascading shampoo-ad hair, doing a superhero landing. Not him saying, “They’ve given me the surname Gundamaneni. And before Maneni comes… Gunda.” Not the song where he’s making up for missed leg day. Or the song with evidence of leg day. Or the song where he’s reciting nursery rhymes.
Bhaijaan lives in Delhi with his three younger brothers (by adoption), Luv, Ishq and Moh. He’s sworn off women ever since his heart was broken by Bhagya—cue Bhagyashree cameo and a stunningly awkward call-back to Maine Pyar Kiya. Because he’s celibate, his brothers can’t marry their girlfriends, Chaahat, Sukoon and Muskaan (their children should come with a free Thesaurus). Enter Bhagya 2.0 (Pooja Hegde), who melts Bhaijaan’s stone heart by quoting the Bhagvad Gita from memory. Nothing like a bit of Sanskrit scripture to get the senses fluttering.
It transpires that the goons Bhaijaan has been decimating in Delhi were actually botched attempts on Bhagya’s life. Her brother, Bala (Daggubati Venkatesh), is being targeted by drug kingpin Nageshwar (Jagapathi Babu), who holds him responsible for his father’s death. Bala detests violence; he thinks his sister is marrying a peaceful man. Of course, Bhaijaan won’t stop fighting—the only question is when will Bala snap? The last hour is fight, song, fight, song, fight, song, everything worse than what came before.
Samji co-wrote Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express (2013), which for all its trashiness felt like a more loving trip down south. Kisi Ka Bhai, a remake of the 2014 Tamil film Veeram, has none of its silly conviction. Instead, it unwittingly exposes ‘pan-India filmmaking’ for the hollow commercial gambit it is. Everything the film does in the name of diversity is half-hearted. Bhaijaan is served “south Indian delicacies”. Ram Charan shows up for the Lungi number, says one line and leaves. ‘Hyderabad’ is a couple of houses that could be anywhere. Bhagya's family speak in Hindi even in scenes where Bhaijaan isn't there. None of the non-Hindi dialogue is subtitled—who cares for all that south Indian talk?
The scene where Bhagya asks Bhaijaan to mime different expressions—happiness, sorrow, anger—and remarks that they all look the same is probably intended as self-deprecating humour. But it’s really the truth: Khan can barely rouse himself to act anymore. This would be less of a problem if he was still a convincing action star, but that ship has sailed too. What he needs is a director skilled enough to work with his strengths and hide his flaws, but Samji, married to the Shetty school of stop-start action, isn’t that guy
It can’t be easy for Khan’s fans to see him this way, complacent, over the hill, indulged and lied to. Which isn’t to say he's not as much to blame for Kisi Ka Bhai as anyone else. As for Samji, I can only quote something he said in a recent interview: “It’s not like I wait to have an entire idea.” If what we’ve been watching are fragments, I live in fear of the day we’re faced with a fully realized Samji idea on screen.