The first thing I would want to tell Hrithik Roshan after watching Fighter is, “Dude, you got to chill,” I mean, we know he is the single most perfectly sculpted, gorgeous-looking man to ever surface Bollywood. You don’t need several minutes in a patriotic actioner to be wasted to have women drool at his smile, style, and charm. Roshan isn’t a groggy-looking superstar who is unfit and way past retirement age. He looks hotter than all the women he romances, Deepika Padukone included. The appeal shrinks when you trumpet it out the way they do in some of Mohanlal, Mammootty, and Rajinikanth’s films (no offense to the actors). India’s answer to Greek Gods does not need to be validated for his beauty. This is perhaps the only glaring anomaly in Siddharth Anand’s insanely entertaining, sufficiently glossy, and rather unproblematically patriotic Air Force actioner.
Fighter makes us meet Patty (Roshan), Minnie (Padukone), Taj (Karan Singh Grover), Bash (Akshay Oberoi), and Sukhi (Banveen Singh) – all of whom are ace fighter pilots hired by Rocky (Anil Kapoor) for a key mission in India’s Jammu & Kashmir. Going by the earlier theory, Minnie is swooning over Patty for most of her screen time. Rocky has an unsettled grudge against Patty and is visibly rude to him. Taj and his wife are abnormally pally with our man, so we know something horrible will happen to this trio. And lastly, Bash is the emblematic ‘good Muslim’ with a halo over his head, a ‘Fighter Forever’ badge on his sleeve, and a toothy smile that never wears off. In short, they open their mouths and you guess where they are headed in the story.
Honestly, I didn’t mind the people and the setting despite the decidedly basic template. There is an India-Pakistan situation with familiar names such as Pulwama, Balakot, and Jaish-e-Mohammed thrown in. The Armed Forces get projected with gallantry and grace. They battle like warriors and they dance like Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone (although I didn’t care for the mediocre song). The writers (Ramon Chibb and Siddharth Anand) throw in an angle of women empowerment which may not be something super-celebral but if it ends up inspiring one among the many women viewers concerning their life choices, then why not? Padukone acts her heart out and the weak ones might even reach out for a tissue when she unites with her family (Ashutosh Rana and Geeta Agarwal get happily typecast).
Fighter might remind you of URI – The Surgical Strike, the melodramatic, ultra-jingoistic, and pro-ruling party version of the events that unfolded at the 2016 Uri attack. “How’s the ghosht? Tasty, sir,” laughs Taj as he munches a mutton dish at a post-work dinner with friends, and you instantly feel the camaraderie. Siddharth Anand’s film, this way, is a lot more honest in what it wants to be. It is a fictionalized take with cinematic liberties galore. Its tone is unapologetic despite running on familiar tropes. The film does not dub Pakistan as a terrorist nation whereas it declares Jaish-e-Mohammed as a terrorist outfit while acknowledging the innocence of the civilians. There are no snide remarks made on Islam and there are no significant moments where the Hindu characters display caste pride. In so many ways, Fighter works for what it does not end up doing rather than what it does.
Interestingly, Anand and Chhib do not find it necessary to earmark a formidable villain. Looking back, even Jawan didn’t have much meat for the antagonist. In Fighter, Azhar Akhtar (newcomer Rishabh Sawhney) looks straight off the runway whose shapely jawline might want you to buy those suspicious chewing gums off the internet. The man’s flat-ironed hair would launch a thousand salons and the dude wouldn’t even tie a bun as he fights for his life and the cause he advocates (if at all there was one). That said, the immaculate styling and a bunch of throaty dialogues do nothing to make Azhar a memorable villain. It is as if Fighter simply didn’t want to service its negative lead with an arc. Okay then.
To nobody’s surprise, Fighter is a Hrithik Roshan showreel. He is present in almost every frame and is worth every penny spent on the tickets, popcorn, cola, and parking. All he needs to realize is that he is a vision to behold but we do not need to be reminded that he is. The actor should also, perhaps, cry a little less because nobody wants to feel threatened imagining the pre-2005 version of him. Padukone is summery even as she mixes wonderfully in a gallant, all-male setup. She forms a fantastic pair with Roshan although she should have stared a lot less at him. The supporting cast is robust with Anil Kapoor taking the lead with several sequences to emote. Karan Singh Grover and Akshay Oberoi, too, own the moments they get to shine in. Aided by Satchith Paulose’s camera and Sanchit and Ankit Balhara’s original score, the VFX by DNEG skyrockets Fighter to become a never-seen-before spectacle on the Indian screens.
Siddharth Anand’s film does not envision it to be the most accurate portrayal of the real event it appears to roughly chronicle. Instead, Fighter is a sumptuous treat for anyone who is starved for a true-blue, glamorous Bollywood extravaganza with drool-worthy leads and jaw-dropping aerial stunts. Released on Republic Day and filled with dozens of patriotic lines and tropes, it will be a rude shock if the Hrithik Roshan-Deepika Padukone film does not emerge as a huge success for all the merits it holds as a commercial potboiler.
Rating: ★★★ 1/2