Half-way through director Siddharth Anand’s mega actioner War, I quickly recalled the Bollywood essentials for the said genre. There’s the national security which is randomly at risk thanks to a bunch of over-styled terrorists (Muslim, of course). You have a leading man who has got no family but instead he mouths one-liners on how the nation is his family (groan!). There are good guys who often going rogue but not without a twist behind their actions.
Director Siddharth Anand’s ambitious actioner War has them all, besides another popular trick in present-day popular cinema – the good Muslim versus bad Muslim arc. The central plot involves Khalid Rahmani (Tiger Shroff), a diligent officer in the army whose father is known to be a gaddaar (traitor). There is a certain amount of theatrics that goes into pronouncing that word even; so much so that we are convinced how it’s all about people to choose what they want to be – deshbhakt or deshdrohi. I almost had a hearty laugh when Naina (Vaani Kapoor) declares how not everybody cares for the nation’s welfare – it is one’s own self that comes first. But, that’s not something that our main man Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) would want to subscribe to. He is forever on secret missions in exotic countries appointed by Colonel Luthra (Ashutosh Rana). Looking at the nature of his work, it isn’t clear whether he works for RAW or is just an expert soldier. Of course, this is a Yash Raj Production that throws money in all visible directions, so we can’t really question such details. The twist in the tale – as the trailer reveals – happens when Kabir seemingly turns against the system.
Now leading the team to nab Kabir, his one-time student, Khalid is more interested to know the reason behind his mentor’s policy shift. Through a long flashback, we witness their very first operation – again, set somewhere in the Middle East. Part comical, part thrilling, here I was more interested in the antagonist’s immaculately made man bun which doesn’t untie even after he is toppled and thrashed by of our agile heroes. Well!
War gets better in the second act. It goes on to add some simple yet sensible layers to Kabir and Khalid’s character designs (screenplay by Shridhar Raghavan, Siddharth Anand). Add to it, some slickly choreographed and shot action sequences, the film is quite a treat for those who love the genre. Case in point is one that is set in an aircraft, which initially appears downright silly but one ought to trust Hrithik Roshan in pulling off such terrific screen badassery with his larger-than-life aura very much in place. These are moments when we are finally convinced that this man simply isn’t made for everyman things such as playing a hapless teacher in Super 30.
The impact is further alleviated by the superior visual splendour that the film puts forth. Cinematography by Benjamin Jasper has to be the most fascinating element in War which helps in amplifying the commotion to a great degree. The very first action sequence involving Shroff, for instance, sees none to very few cuts. You observe that the camera seldom rests, and its constant motion is precisely what sets an even pace to the narrative. The DOP’s fascination for quick zooms is, again, something that India’s mainstream cinema is not used to but it works like magic in War. I would also mention the circular panning technique that he uses in several scenes, adding to the tension and urgency that is on papers. Together with the editor (Aarif Sheikh) who puts together a bunch of choicest frames, Jasper makes even the mundane over-the-shoulder shots look magnificent. Abbas Tyrewala’s dialogues seem to be fully aware of the film’s territory and, as a result, the narrative contains quotable quotes galore. Sanchit and Ankit Balhara’s original score is very well done and it was particularly impressive to see them use melody in key action sequences, complete with strains of saxophone and mandolin among others. Vishal-Shekhar’s songs are quite good even though the placement of ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ is highly questionable.
Compliments aside, Anand’s film in the final act is a maha let-down. Logic simply goes out of the window as people transform without any rhyme or reason to whoever they want to be. The double-crossing and counter double-crossing get too hard to digest and it’s absurd when we think how all of it is at the cost of India’s safety. War, in this segment, gets too consumed by its need to fit into the big holiday blockbuster garb that it ends up making its leading men run a ferocious race in the Arctic Circle’s snowcapped roads. And also, when will Bollywood characters stop leaving vehicles adrift with their keys plugged right in? In War, a jeep parked inside a flying aircraft has its key in the shaft too. Other than letting the heroes conveniently ride off to oblivion, I don’t see a reason why any sensible human being would do that.
War isn’t a film to display major acting marvels but I couldn’t stop admiring Hrithik Roshan’s aforementioned ability to make the most ridiculous sequences work. His rugged persona and some neatly delivered lines work wonderfully in taking War several notches higher. Tiger Shroff pales in comparison even though he is pitch-perfect in the action department as always. Vaani Kapoor, in what should be labelled as a special appearance, looks great but passes muster in the acting department. For all the spark that she displayed in Shuddh Desi Romance, Kapoor seems to be on a process to unlearn the skillset that she possessed originally. It was particularly disappointing to see her diction graduate to Kartik Aaryan’s ‘I-just-swallowed-an-aubergine’ mode. Anupriya Goenka gives a fine showcase of herself in a part that is evidently more exciting than the leading lady’s. Ashutosh Rana, as always, is a delight to watch even though I wish there was more of him. The antagonists are so-so with some of them lacking in menace and the others going completely over-the-top. The child actor, again, belongs to a clichéd cinematic sphere and the syrupiness of this chapter does not gel well with the film’s overall tonality.
All said and done, I am still glad that War does not drown into drains of absolute mediocrity like several Indian action thrillers from the recent past. Yes, it does take its audience for granted but not without offering some value to their gargantuan expectations. Whilst it is Hrithik Roshan and the zany cinematography that contributes the most in making the film worth a watch, director Siddharth Anand somehow ensures that he delivers better thrills than he did in his half-baked Bang Bang!