Fighter movie review: Hrithik Roshan-Deepika Padukone make this drama-in-the-sky soar, jingoism pulls it down
Two things prevent ‘Fighter’ from being a total humdinger: excessive jingoism and schmaltz. This drama-in-the-sky, part ‘Top Gun’, part ‘Uri’, and part other Siddharth Anand films, has enough well-executed action set pieces, filled with several effective flourishes from its lead actors, to have coasted through. Why didn’t the film have enough confidence in its USP: the brave boys, and girls, looping those loops?
India’s most wanted ‘dushman’, as far as Hindi cinema goes, has forever and always been Pakistan. But didn’t we show them what’s what in the 2019 surgical strike, ‘Uri ’? Didn’t an ISI agent curl up and roll over in the director’s own 2021 ‘Pathaan’? I could go on, but you get the point.
So the first feeling when you hear pointed references to Pulwama, a convoy being blown up, and ‘ghar mein ghusna’, is that of ennui. Why can’t Bollywood think of a new enemy? Or is that too much work? Don’t know about you, but I’m tired of terrorists with kohled eyes, plotting in make-shift shacks somewhere in Pakistan, snarling and shooting and scooting. Even the new face as the antagonist, Rishabh Sawhney as the Lashkar mastermind Azhar Akhtar, blow-dried long hair reaching the chin, one eye carefully bloodshot, does old things: stomp on brave Indian soldiers, and spout melodramatic dialogues dripping with hate.
Hrithik Roshan reunites with Anand after their ‘War’, this time as Shamsher Pathania, call sign Patty, as an ace fighter pilot — needless to say, he is ‘our best’ — who lays the table and washes up with as much dexterity as he flies his plane. Matching him on eye-candy stakes, is Deepika Padukone as helicopter pilot Minnal Rathore, aka Minni, who is as much an expert on rescue missions as any man. There is the bonding with the other aviators, chiefly Karan Singh Grover as Sartaj ‘Taj’ Gill, and Akshay Oberoi as Basheer ‘Bash’ Khan. The latter is your token patriotic Indian Muslim; there’s also a Sikh officer who gets the ‘comic relief’ lines before his ‘action scenes’. A Sardar being the butt of jokes? What else?
Last year, around the same time, we got from the same director, ‘Pathaan’, a spry spy saga. It was all about reclaiming ground that a long-time hero had to cede; it was also about the declaration that he wasn’t going anywhere. It was a lot of fun because it had the smart to not take itself seriously. In ‘Fighter’, there’s an uneasy mix of wanting to be real in a plot awash with mainstream cliches: when the camera lingers for a moment too long on a pilot, you know he’s in for the chop. You know which one will be sacrificed; you know who will come home. You know a pair of reluctant parents will become aware of their ‘mistake’, and more tears will be shed. After a point, everything feels like a stretch: Minni’s line about ‘men and women being equal in the sky’ makes you want to cheer, but not when it comes around again.
This is one of those films that you wish that the desire to get the easy claps, with dialogues like ‘baap kaun hai’, and ‘har galli will become Indian Occupied Pakistan’, could have been kept at bay. A lot of effort has gone into keeping the proceedings at Air Force stations authentic, and there’s a great aerial sequence in the second half — I loved the snow whooshing off a row of fir trees — which can compare with the best of the ‘Top Gun’ flicks. Hrithik and Deepika make a great pair; Anil Kapoor, as fit as the hero, provides able support.
Succumbing to the current atmosphere of hyper-nationalism leads to bombast, which in turn weakens a film. Baaps don’t go around declaring who they are. They just know.
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