Deewar, the classic drama about crime, morality and punishment between brothers on opposite sides of the law, has inspired several remakes. Directed by Yash Chopra in 1975 and written by Salim-Javed, Deewar’s versions include Magaadu in Telugu, Thee in Tamil and Nathi Muthal Nathi Vare in Malayalam – and The Brothers in Cantonese. The Brothers (1979) stars Tony Liu as Amitabh Bachchan’s criminal, while Danny Lee steps into the role of the righteous police officer brother played by Shashi Kapoor.
The remake was produced by the renowned Shaw Brothers studio, which is known internationally for kung fu and period dramas. The Brothers was directed by Shaw Brothers regular Hua Shan, who had previously delivered the cult movies Super Inframan (1975), Soul of the Sword (1978), Little Dragon Maiden (1983), and Portrait in Crystal (1983).
The Brothers is a mostly faithful remake. The dialogue is transcribed directly from the original in many places, and many of the emotionally charged scenes survive with a few notable changes.
Several notable Hong Kong actors show up in The Brothers, including the legendary Ku Feng, playing the role of Davar Seth (Iftekhar). Shaw Brothers regular villain Chan Sen plays Madan Puri’s Samant. Parveen Babi’s Anita, played by Chow Lai Guen, has barely any screen time, while Neetu Singh’s character has been excised from the Hong Kong version.
The crucial character of the mother, who becomes a source of conflict between the brothers, is played Nam Hung. The Hong Kong cinema veteran can hardly match up to Nirupa Roy when it comes to conveying the original film’s emotional thrust.
The Brothers is shorter than Deewar, clocking 90 minutes. Like Deewar, it begins with a strike (at a fishing pier instead of a coal mine), but the father (Riki Harada instead of Satyen Kappu) is killed off in the beginning itself.
There are other important differences. The criminal is not killed by his police inspector brother but by a group of armed policemen after a fist fight. The character played by Parveen Babi in the original is raped. The badge numbered 786, which is worn by Amitabh Bachchan’s character, has its own subplot in Deewar. The number stands for the value of the words “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim”. In The Brothers, Tony Liu has a badge numbered 838, which signifies the Chinese Year of the Horse.
The remake fails to capture the essence of Deewar. Tony Liu and Danny Lee lack the aura and chemistry of the original actors. Although Danny Lee went on to become a sought after actor in the cop genre, acting in such notable movies as John Woo’s The Killer (1989), he looks tacitly out of place in The Brothers.
Tony Liu has done commendably well in many Shaw Brothers kung fu movies, but he too does not fit the part of the smouldering and brooding man who blames the world for the hardships heaped upon his family. The lack of a bond between the brothers is glaring, and perhaps the movie would have worked better with another combination of actors, such as Shaw Brothers regular Ti Lung, David Chiang and Alexander Fu Sheng. Hong Kong star Ti Lung went on to play a similar character in John Woo’s classic A Better Tomorrow (1986).