One of the lines in Bhai that’s supposed to draw whistles and claps goes like this, “Ee field lo kotthaga edhanna cheyalante aayane cheyali (If someone has to do something new in this field, it’s got to be him).” At the end of 154 minutes (Bhai’s run time), we wonder if director Veerabhadram Chowdary had anything new to offer apart from ‘punch lines’ that are impossible to keep count of.

A mafia gang headquartered in Hong Kong and lead by David (Ashish Vidyarthi) has spread its reach far and wide. What they do and how they operate is never outlined. Through a few punch lines we are told they are a dreaded lot. David trusts Bhai (Nagarjuna) more than his own sons, essayed by Sonu Sood and Ajay, and sends him to Hyderabad to eliminate an undercover cop (Tamil actor Prasanna) who threatens to shake up his empire.

Bhai, we are told, preys on his enemies at lightening speed. In one of the initial scenes, Bhai chases down one of his victims but stops short of shooting him down when the clock strikes six. Apparently, he turns a playboy and doesn’t wield guns after six. And in a flash, the director reduced the dreaded goon to a laugh.

Once in Hyderabad, the director is in no hurry to make Bhai track down the undercover cop. There is enough time for the alcoholic M.S. Narayana to treat us to some silly humour. There is enough screen time to establish the humane side of Bhai — he lets go off a former gang member when he cites his sister’s impending wedding as a reason for staying out of the group; he saves a damsel (Richa Gangopadhyay) from an annoying prospective bridegroom.

If you’ve seen enough mainstream films, you’d guess the link between the undercover cop and Bhai. Of course, there has to be a back story that further establishes the goodness of the hero. And like many heroes have done in the past, Bhai too takes a different identity to win over his estranged family members.

The staid storyline can be overlooked if the storytelling is commendable. Here, all we get is an indifferent narrative that takes its audience for granted.

Of late, quite a few mainstream films have buffered up the second half with comedy. Bhai takes a similar route, bringing in Brahmanandam. For a change, he beats up other people. There are far too many gags but very few make you laugh.

Nagarjuna is the only silver lining in this film, shouldering the proceedings with his charm and earnestness. Richa Gangopadhyay struggles in a role that makes her appear downright silly. Prasanna’s brief role begins with much promise only to be reduced to a prop.

Unfortunately, Bhai is an ordeal to sit through unless you’re interested in punch lines. Sample a few: ‘He is the King; he takes decisions without discussions’; ‘Bhai tho pettukunte chaavu ki tatkal ticket book chesinatte’; ‘Mafia ki grammar techindi nene, nerpindi nene’; ‘Mafia ane magazine ki Bhai cover story lantivaadu’. The last two perhaps refer to the trend Nagarjuna set with Shiva. We wouldn’t know. But by the time the film ends, you’d be least interested in knowing it too. We just hope we get to see Nagarjuna in better and more deserving films.

BHAI

Cast: Nagarjuna, Richa Gangopadhyay, Sonu Sood

Direction: Veerabhadram Chowdary

Music: Devi Sri Prasad

Bottomline: Nagarjuna is the silver lining in this mediocre fare