With sky-high action and a grounded plot, the Siddharth Anand film takes off, but not without turbulence.
Forming Air Dragons, elite IAF aviators (Anil Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, Karan Singh Grover, and Akshay Oberoi) band together in the face of impending peril. Fighter delves into their bond, fraternity, and struggles, both within and outside of themselves.
On this day last year, Siddharth Anand brought an action film that has still stayed in people's minds. Yes, we are talking about Pathaan, which witnessed Shah Rukh Khan back on the big screen after four long years. This year, Hrithik Roshan portrays Pathania, a squadron leader in the Indian Air Force, in Fighter.
Going by the trailer, the film hinted at being a jingoistic pro-max, which has become like a norm in the movies, and only a few filmmakers defy it. The trailer, filled with numerous dialogues seemingly borrowed from Gadar 2, was undeniably shocking.
But Fighter is exactly opposite of what we saw in the trailer and brings calmness along with the storm at the right intervals. Yes, it does have starting trouble while trying to soar high with the fighter planes and also with the story built up. However, as the film progresses, we get to know that even Karan Singh Grover's role as Sartaj Gill's poor jokes has some relevance to an extent.
The film unmasks itself in quick succession, showing that the terrorist, Azhar Akhtar (Rishabh Sawhney), has no nationality but finds his temporary home in a Pakistani air base. To gauge the purpose, the film takes us back and forth between 2018 and 2019, providing a glimpse of the Pulwama attacks that occurred on February 14, 2019.
The film sets the tone for Fighter, and the rest of the story follows the pursuit of hunting down the terrorists while dashing through the clouds. But they also gave a reality check, showing that the attack came from Pakistan first, and the Indian army gave it back in retaliation. The back and forth of aerial attacks in the first half is exhilarating but a little cumbersome, given that it took its own time to get to the right spot of what the film is all about.
Beginning with the 2019 Pulwama attack, the film gives a glimpse into the 2019 Balakot airstrike and also the 2019 India-Pakistan border skirmishes, but from the Indian Air Force point of view. This is the win that Fighter achieves, serving the purpose and standing true to being an aerial actioner.
Although it's exciting to watch Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone together on the big screen, their love story solely works as a quick distraction from the ulterior motive of the film. Well, that's a good thing, as Siddharth Anand doesn't delve much into an angle, which takes attention away from the mission that it wants to explore.
However, Ramon Chibb, along with Siddharth, does explore trauma bonding and also create a friendship among the cast, as Anil Kapoor's character Rakesh Jaisingh says that interpersonal relationships will work better for the mission.
What the lead actors' character arcs couldn't deliver, the aerial actions do by stealing the spotlight entirely. The actors' being behind the mask and commanding and also in distress while being ambushed do keep you on the edge of your seat, and that's where the film passes with flying colours. Invoking patriotism brings about the emotional depth in the film, and it also includes gut-wrenching sequences that draw from familiar tropes seen in previous Bollywood films like Rang De Basanti and Uri: The Surgical Strike.
Anil Kapoor portrays the angry commanding officer in Fighter, who, despite his personal trauma, never forgets his national duty. The actor does have better screen time than we saw him recently in Animal, and he also has a better role, so to speak.
Hrithik Roshan walked with a swag with his entry in War so that he could swoop in style in Fighter. Siddharth Anand knows perfectly well how to capture the actor with his charm, attitude, a dash of arrogance, and confidence. The last time we saw him in a similar role was in Zoya Akhtar's Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
Deepika Padukone does leave an impressive mark with her presence. The actor gets a few scenes to shine, but a few scenes where she is seeking love do seem forced when it gets into a repetition. However, Siddharth, who knows the actor's calibre well, invests more in creating emotional scenes with her, which does create an overall impact.
Casting Karan Singh Grover and Akshay Oberoi work exceptionally well for the film, and they do bring the lighter moments in the first half only to get into an intense sequence that drives the story ahead very well.
Siddharth and Ramon didn't create anything new with Fighter in terms of storyline; it's cliche and also predictable to the next level. The first half of Fighter is filled with moments that foreshadow the events of the second half, especially when the villain Rishabh is introduced, but unfortunately, he lacks a strong impact and could have been portrayed by anyone.
Despite the low angles, muscle flexing, and long hair, his character lacks a compelling backstory, making it clear that he doesn't require one. But still, there's nothing heroic about his villainous act that will make you keep him in your memory.
I can keep repeating it again and again. The impact that aerial action sequences create throughout compensates for the film's shortcomings. That's why the film keeps going along with a few emotional turns it takes, but mainly the magnificient fighter planes.
The biggest issue is that the film, which promotes itself as a nationalistic film, becomes borderline jingoistic, which is unexpected from Siddharth, especially. In addition, the dialogue about India occupying Pakistan (IOP) and phrases like "Baap kaun hai" and others along the same lines also contribute to the uneasiness. Well, Hussain Dalal and Abbas Dalal don't put much effort into conveying the message of patriotism while also giving it back to the "padosi mulk," which has become the favourite topic on celluloid in every possible way.
Fighter keeps you engaged with its visuals and outstanding action sequences, overpowering everything else that it tries to offer.
Fighter builds to a cliched counter-terrorism drama despite its slow start and formulaic plot, where plane combat sequences dominate the show and keep viewers glued to the screen. Though it flirts with jingoism, the film's emotional depth and patriotism shine through, despite contrived romance scenes and a predictable villain.