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Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone lead the charge in Siddharth Anand's high-flying 'Fighter'

Fighter soars in its action scenes and plummets in some departments. But Hrithik Roshan makes the ride worthwhile

Priyanka Roy  Published 27.01.24, 02:33 PM
Deepika Padukone, Hrithik Roshan and Anil Kapoor in Fighter, now playing in theatres

Deepika Padukone, Hrithik Roshan and Anil Kapoor in Fighter, now playing in theatres

Movie: FIGHTER (U/A)

Director: Siddharth Anand

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Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, Anil Kapoor, Karan Singh Grover, Akshay Oberoi, Ashutosh Rana, Talat Aziz, Rishabh Sawhney, Mahesh Shetty, Sanjeeda Sheikh

Running time: 166 minutes

Hrithik Roshan, looking like a deep-dish pizza — this allusion has everything to do with our ‘cheese-burst’ feelings and is in no way a description of his pec-perfect body — alighting out of an aerial object (plane, helicopter, parachute, you name it) and making us (and that includes his co-stars, male and female) pick our jaws off the floor, is well on its way to becoming a distinct sub-genre in Bollywood.

We saw that very memorably in War, the 2019 blockbuster in which the sight of a sinewy Hrithik striding out slo-mo from a helicopter not only had co-star Tiger Shroff staring in awe, but was for many of us the best bit of this Siddharth Anand-directed entry into the Yash Raj Films spy universe.

Hrithik and Siddharth Anand do it again. This time in Fighter, the biggest Bollywood release yet of 2024 that has vroomed into theatres and has all the makings to emerge as the first blockbuster of the year. It first happens in his entry scene when a lithe and handsome Shamsher Pathania aka Patty lands his jet at the Srinagar base of the Indian Air Force and strides out with almost feline grace, making Minal ‘Minnie’ Rathore (Deepika Padukone) gape with abandon and the IMAX crowd at the first day-first show screening at INOX (South City) break into loud hoots and deafening whistles, perhaps just stopping short of flinging their 3D glasses at the screen. It happens again when an airborne Patty wields the Tricolour to a group of jawans below, marrying visual extravaganza to patriotic punch.

Hrithik and Deepika in Ishq jaisa kuch

Hrithik and Deepika in Ishq jaisa kuch

Anand and co-writer Ramon Chibb, along with Hussain and Abbas Dalal, who have penned the dialogues, dial up the drama in more ways than one, constantly packing in sheen and scale, gloss and glam, masala and mayhem and a huge dose of anti-neighbour josh. Given the timing of its release (it is the Republic Day weekend) and the times we are living in (of the fast blurring lines between patriotism and jingoism), Fighter plays to the gallery, but its skillfully mounted moments of both action and emotion help in pulling it back from Gadar territory.

I didn’t like the trailer of Fighter. The blatant Pakistan bashing with dialogues that felt like leftovers from Uri seemed like yet another addition to the frothing-at-the-mouth equivalent of a Twitter (X, which could also be ex) rant that Bollywood seems to be churning out with alarming alacrity. However, Fighter as a film is thankfully much more — and much better. It is definitely peppered with words like ‘jihad’ and ‘qurbani’ and makes sure to include the now obligatory ‘good Muslim’ vs ‘bad Muslim’ plot point, but it does live up to its claim of being India’s first aerial action film.

Anand, who directed Shah Rukh Khan’s comeback vehicle Pathaan — that released on the same day last year — knows a thing or two about blending style with substance, one a little bit more than the other. Fighter is about good-looking people flying high one moment, pumped up by the adrenaline of junoon and desh bhakti, but also hitting frequent lows in their personal lives as they fight the demons of the past and the present.

Leading from the front is Patty, an unmistakably ‘Maverick’-styled protagonist in Anand’s Top Gun-inspired canvas. Hrithik plays the man with a winning mix of daredevilry and vulnerability. Being one of the best pilots in the force (“Yeh khud ko pilot nahin, fighter samajhta hain,” someone says in the film) makes others — Minnie included — brand him “arrogant”, but Patty puts it down to “confidence”. Frequently given to shunning authority when he spots the enemy in the sky, Patty has a guilt trip of a backstory, and is always up against Rakesh ‘Rocky’ Jai Singh (Anil Kapoor), the commanding officer of the Srinagar Air Warriors, described as a band of “the top aviators in the country”.

With intel of enemy action from across the border, a team is assembled with Patty being joined by Minnie, Sartaj ‘Taj’ Gill (Karan Singh Grover) and Basheer ‘Bash’ Khan (Akshay Oberoi). It is all fun and games in the first hour with the team engaging in some bonding time, which also yields the song Sher khul gaye, as well as Minnie showing more than a passing interest in Patty.

Deepika looks the part and rocks a uniform like few others can, but Minnie just seems to be a gender empowerment box that Fighter is desperate to tick off. Minnie’s exploits in the sky, too, are not as high-profile as the ones that the boys are made a part of, with Patty perpetually slipping into saviour mode. Even the sizzle between the two — and that, of course, has to do with the story and the setup — only shows up after the end credits in the foot-tapping Ishq jaisa kuch. There should have been much more of the two lookers together, and honestly, we wouldn’t have complained.

But when it comes to the action in Fighter, there is very little to fault. Powered by a team that includes Satchith Paulose behind the camera and Aarif Sheikh on the editing table, Anand consistently keeps the audience engaged with the combat scenes, both in the sky and on the ground. The action is visceral, expertly involves the audience sitting in a dark theatre in a collective response of claps and gasps, and keeps the film constantly entertaining.

Anand loosely throws in episodes of Pulwama and Balakot, and the villain — newcomer Rishabh Sawhney looks more AI than human — isn’t a formidable nemesis in the league of John Abraham in Pathaan or even Emraan Hashmi in Tiger 3. But once Fighter is in the sky, there is very little to bring it down. Entertainment guaranteed. Or as Patty, as an antithesis to Pathaan, says: “Kursi ki peti khol dijiye!”

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