India v Pakistan. Whether it's a cricket match, a hockey game, or diplomacy at the United Nations, it's a marquee match-up guaranteed to garner eyeballs. Add to that the atmosphere of Republic Day when patriotism is dialed up to 11 and the military takes center stage on Rajpath, oops Kartavya Path, and beyond, and it's a heady brew ripe for a movie to tap into that zeitgeist. Rang de Basanti (2006), Baby (2015), Airlift (2016) and Pathaan (2023) all took advantage of it. This year it's the Hrithik Roshan-Deepika Padukone starrer Fighter directed by Siddharth Anand who previously made War (2019) and Pathaan as part of the YRF Spy Universe.
Fighter is not part of that universe but it very much draws on the same action DNA. The action sequences and VFX are Hollywood adjacent, the patriotism is in your face and doesn't shy away from naming and shaming the villains. None of that coy "padosi mulk" crap we used to hear in movies earlier. Anand has an obvious fascination with Tom Cruise's filmography with Pathaan taking after the Mission Impossible franchise and now the obvious inspiration for Fighter is the Top Gun series. That's not necessarily a bad thing as long as the time, energy and money is put in to make a comparable product. The "sophisticated" urban Indian audience looks down on this, conveniently forgetting that Hollywood does it all the time too with Korean, Japanese and Hong Kong movies.
The story takes the 2019 Pulwama attack on Indian armed forces and the retaliatory Balakot air strikes as the inspiration for a story about an elite Air Force squadron called Air Dragons. The top gun of that squad is Shamsher Pathaniya (Hrithik), call sign Patty (Anand obviously considers the Pathan name a lucky mascot after his blockbuster hit last year). His team of hotshot fighter pilots includes Taj (Karan Grover), Bash (Akshay Oberoi) and Unni (Mahesh Shetty). Coupled with them is a helicopter group led by Minal "Minni" Rathore (Deepika). Their CO is Rocky Jaisingh, played by the evergreen advertisement for anti-aging Anil Kapoor. The villain of the piece is Pak terrorist Azhar Akhtar (no relation to Javed and Farhan) played by newcomer Rishabh Sawhney.
The aerial combat sequences are slick, and the overall action vibe is glossy. Hrithik's chiseled body and swagger (that jawline can be used as a ginsu knife) is obvious eye candy for the camera and so is Deepika's in the song sequences. Since Pathaan she is acquiring quite the sexy swimsuit collection that she could easily host a fashion show called Deep's Dips. The music by Vishal Shekhar who seem to be having a renaissance in the past year is pretty good with Sher Khul Gaye as the standout song. There are portions where the action sags during its 2hr 46 min run time, but the funeral scene of one of the fallen comrades is goose-bump inducing and shows the ultimate sacrifice is a daily occupational hazard for the armed forces. The Vande Mataram anthem is appropriately rousing.
There are obvious dialogues meant to induce seetis and taalis like the infamous POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) will become IOP (Indian Occupied Pakistan), but they don't veer into SDOP (Sunny Deol Over-the-top Patriotism) territory. If after the adrenaline platterful of the last few days with non-stop cries of Jai Shri Ram still ringing in your ears, and the early Friday morning military parade, you are looking for a way to round out the Jai Hind weekend fighter within you, then Fighter is your ticket.
January 26, 2024