Fighter Review: Squeezed Between Gadar And Top Gun, Fighter Struggles To Breathe
Fighter Review: Squeezed Between Gadar And Top Gun, Fighter Struggles To Breathe

Excessive warmongering makes Fighter a prisoner of its own device.

Director: Siddharth Anand
Writer: Ramon Chibb, Siddharth Anand, Hussain Dalal, Abbas Dalal
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, Anil Kapoor
Stars: Three



The Plot
Indian Air Force’s best combat aviators are brought together to create the elite Air Dragons. The motley bunch includes squadron leader Shamsher “Patty” Pathania (Hrithik Roshan), squadron leader Minal “Minni” Rathore (Deepika Padukone), group captain Rakesh “Rocky” Jai Singh (Anil Kapoor), squadron Leader Sartaj “Taj” Gill (Karan Singh Grover), and squadron leader Basheer “Bash” Khan (Akshay Oberoi). While they are still training as a team, terrorists blow up a CRPF convoy passing a hilly terrain in Kashmir (a recreation of the 2019 Pulwama attack). India, led by this Air Force team, retaliates and launches an airstrike on the terrorist camp in Pakistan (a recreation of the 2019 Balakot airstrike). From there, the movie goes into a fictional space with two IAF pilots getting captured by the terrorists after they cross into Pakistan (it also becomes illogical with the Govt of Pakistan agreeing to return the pilots held captive by terrorists with whom officially they claim to have no contact with, but logic is often martyred on the altar of mass hysteria in this country, be it on screen or off it).



The Craft
Although not in the same league as Top Gun, a movie it’s been compared to and is blatantly inspired by, there is no denying the fact Siddharth Anand’s Indian Air Force drama has the best aerial action scenes India has seen so far. It has great detailing where the VFX seamlessly blends and heightens the impact of the usage of original fighter aircraft (the movie is made with the active co-operation of the Air Force). The 3D is top-notch, and the quality of VFX, done by DNEG (they had also done the VFX for Brahmastra: Part One—Shiva and according to reports will be working on Nitesh Tiwari’s Ramayana next), is world-class. It is heartening to see Anand working on the criticisms Pathaan’s VFX had received. Another aspect that really helps in the impact is the background score, although the songs, except Heer Aasman, are largely forgettable.


There is something delicious about the way Siddharth Anand presents his male leads. Here, just like War, his camera makes love with Hrithik Roshan’s sun-bathed chiseled body; but this time it isn’t a one-night stand. After caressing his rugged beauty, lazily lingering on it, and running fingers through his dusk-kissed hair, it settles its focus on the depth of his hazel eyes, and through it reaches his soul; this is a much deeper love story. In fact, the way he uses Hrithik Roshan’s eyes, the only bit clearly visible during most of the dramatic aerial combat scenes, is a masterstroke. And it is heartening to see Hrithik completely letting go of his clenched-jawed, face-twitching over-the-top acting over the years and settle into being this nuanced and restrained actor who can pull off scenes of such intense emotion with so much finesse. In this version, he is the perfect amalgamation of a bona fide Bollywood star and a powerhouse performer. Although one can’t call Fighter his career best, he is consistent in his acting supremacy.



The same can be said for his co-star Deepika Padukone. From just being a cutesy dimpled, long-limbed heroine, she is slowly transforming into a mature actor. Apart from looking adequately sexy to be in the same frame as the director’s muse, Hrithik, and putting her toned and athletic body to good use as an Air Force officer (just like in Jawan), she absolutely nails the few emotional scenes she gets. But her character is underwritten and she hardly gets the chance to showcase her acting chops. She is treated as Hrithik Roshan’s heroine, and the movie remains an out-and-out Hrithik Roshan film. But strangely enough, these two smoking hot actors don’t have the sizzling chemistry one would expect (or Deepika had recently proclaimed in Koffee with Karan). And it doesn’t help that the personal story of the character looks forced and preachy, and as an audience, you never really get emotionally invested in the character.



Anil Kapoor is definitely in the best phase of his career, but although here the script doesn’t allow him to soar as an actor, he gives a solid performance– the man doesn’t age but grows as an actor with each film.


Fighter claims that the Air Force is not about individual heroism but about the team. And the team of actors Anand gets on board ensures that each character becomes a hero. Akshay Oberoi, Karan Singh Grover, and Sanjeeda Sheikh are in top form, and Sharib Hashm and Ashutosh Rana in their ‘special appearance’ acts are impactful.


The Underwhelming Aspects
But the same can’t be said while casting the Pakistani counterparts… none of the actors make a mark. The credit for this goes to the horribly lazy writing that ensures each character remains steadfastly within the Bollywood cliché of vitriol-spewing but nincompoop Pakistani officials. However, it is Rishabh Sawhney playing the supervillain, the dreaded terrorist Azhar Akhtar, who really amps up the cringe quotient.


There was a time when ‘villains’ looked cooler and had more panache than the heroes. Think Pran, Prem Chopra, Vinod Khanna, and even the deliciously evil yet suave John Abraham in Siddharth Anand’s last outing, Pathaan, who was a perfect match for the hero. Here as the towering antagonist Sawhney, with his bizarre red contact lens, ironed silky hair, and Arnold ‘Conan’ Schwarzenegger vibe, adds an unintentional comic element. With a performance apt for a videogame character, he seems to be a part of an entirely different movie. His cardboard character is so underwritten that he has to be given a monologue about how he tortured a person in a desperate attempt to make the audience take his sinister potential seriously! Hrithik and this movie definitely deserved a more worthy opponent.



But the real villain of Fighter is the writing. Not only is the story insanely predictable and replete with logical flaws (with Patty behaving like an entitled nepo kid on multiple occasions and flouting Air Force decorum at whim), but in an attempt to add more emotional layers, Anand creates something that reminds one of Rachel’s trifle with the love story acting as the sautéed beef layer. Most of her screen time, Deepika spends longingly staring at Hrithik and occasionally shedding a few tears. But what pushes the narrative towards bizarre is when Patty’s friend and comrade are taken hostage (partly due to his foolhardiness), his emotional turmoil is directed mostly towards his lady love and going away from her; the comrades become at best, afterthoughts. He is having dream sequences with his heroine while his colleagues are tortured in captivity. Then there is Mini’s story, which although touches upon an important topic of the inclusion of women in Armed Forces, is so predictable and forced that it feels like a sidenote on feminism.


The 166-minute narrative is heavy on jingoism that often makes way for over-the-top cringe dialoguebaazi (with the PM screaming Pakistan ko bata denge ke baap kaun hai, and the whole tiranga situation in the climax) so much so that you often wonder if this is Siddharth Anand’s unintentional tribute to Anil Sharma. Although, Anand doesn’t aim at Pakistan bashing—the movie time and again creates a clear demarcation between terrorists and blood-thirsty Pak army officials, and the general people of Pakistan (there is a scene where Patty tells Azhar ‘apne aap ko shahid mat samajhna’ … for a terrorist is just a terrorist, his loyalty is simply towards the evil and not towards any nation)—the dialogues by Hussain Dalal and Abbas Dalal are preachy and dipped in hyper-nationalism. This often makes the serious scenes lose their impact: in one such scene Patty is engaged in a two-way missile lock with a Pakistan fighter pilot (how to make a guy a Pakistani? Simple, empty a tin of kohl in his eyes, and paint everything green), it is an intense situation, but suddenly the two get chatty and a full-blown conversation (read: dialoguebaazi) ensues mid-air and mid-fight!


The Verdict
With stunning cinematography, detailed work on Air Force fighter jets, top-notch 3-D, and world-class VFX, Fighter is definitely a visual stunner. Talking about the visuals, Siddharth Anand has a way to project his heroes as objects of desire and he does the same with Hrithik Roshan in Fighter. He makes his camera smoothly slide through his sun-kissed body like a cube of ice and melts in him. But Hrithik Roshan, and his hazel eyes, also give a fine performance. So does the entire cast but they are vastly let down by the lazy writing. In fact, it is the predictable script, replete with cliched characters and jingoist over-the-top dialogues that often tremble on the brink of cringe and at times fall over, that clip the wings of Anand’s soaring saga. Also, it doesn’t help that it loses its stand on Pakistan and terrorism midway–what starts as a clear vision that terrorists have no nationality culminates in rousing dialogues about POK and a mention of India’s military potential to create an ‘India Occupied Pakistan’. Warmongering has a mass appeal, especially in today’s India and Anand opts for the lowest-hanging fruit in an attempt to create another box office hit.


Image Credit: Viacom18 Studios and Marflix Pictures


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