The subject of “Fighter,” a Bollywood military drama movie that draws heavily on “Top Gun: Maverick,” is politics, but it’s not what it seems. “Fighter,” which was released in time for India’s Republic Day, specifically mentions the two events that followed the 2019 Balakot airstrike, which, depending on who you ask, either killed a bunch of anti-Indian extremists or no one at all and the Pulwama attack in 2019 that resulted in the deaths of forty Indian military police in Kashmir. Given the surge of nationalist emotions in both Hindi-language pop cinema and Modi-era India, it is not surprising that these real-life events are being used as the basis for a sabre-rattling crowd-pleaser.
However, the main attraction of “Fighter,” whose producers strictly adhere to conventional story rhythms and other Bollywood-centric melodramatic tropes, isn’t a surprise. The friendship and romance between two excellent Indian Air Force pilots, played by co-leads Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone, as well as a few of their friends, is a major theme of the film. Even yet, “Fighter” ends with an inevitable hot gunfight in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and a hint that the next skirmish would take place in “Indian.” Despite not being allowed to be seen in theatres in any of the Gulf nations, including the United Arab Emirates, “Fighter” was a smash this past weekend.
The creators of “Fighter” try a few common parries over the inspiring nationalism of their characters. The movie depicts Azhar Akthar (Rishabh Sawhney), a self-described extremist who leads a group of terrorists with strong anti-Indian sentiment. Additionally, the Pakistani Air Force is held accountable for allowing Akhtar’s group to cross the Line of Control, which demarcates the border between India and Pakistan.
It makes sense that the writers of “Fighter” used the Pulwama attack, which did not directly involve a nation with nuclear weapons, as the inspiration for their fictitious dramatic catalyst. Real-life allegations have been made against Modi’s government that it disregarded or even hid intelligence information that could have stopped the Pulwama attack. “Fighter” does not contain any criticism of the Indian government or army, which is to be expected from a film that is patterned after the sequel to “Top Gun.”
From its romantic musical numbers to its “Top Gun”-style chain of command Air Force drama, which primarily revolves around flag-waving rebel pilot Shamsher “Patty” Pathania (Roshan) and disapproving Group Captain Rakesh “Rocky” Jai Singh (Anil Kapoor), the movie’s Indian Air Force drama is also visually stunning. Rocky and Patty argue a lot, but in the end, they band together for a risky mission that ends with an absurdly extravagant game of chicken. Not that the earlier sequences, in which Patty and his fellow Air Force pilots work hard and have fun, are realistic either. Lyrics from a musical performance that is representatively energetic but unremarkable are, “The lions are on the prowl tonight.”
Here, Roshan’s charm is put to use, particularly when Patty places a wager and attempts to entice two ravenous (and noticeably obese) strangers to give up a plate of biryani. That’s the emotional depth of the film “Fighter,” in which the primary antagonist has a single bloodshot eye and the majority of the aeroplanes are computer-generated, especially when they’re in the air.
While Padukone performs flawlessly, “Fighter” is also rather standard in that she doesn’t have as much screen time as Roshan. For the most part, he is successful in conveying the emotional weight of this corny, popcorn-cheesy script, which frequently feels like a relic from a time when Bollywood star vehicles catered primarily to mass audiences and ruled the Indian box office. Roshan effortlessly performs easy dancing steps and flaunts his toned abs. In the past few years, he has portrayed unlikable characters, such as in the crammed action comedy “War,” which was directed by Siddharth Anand, the man behind “Fighter.” However, Roshan is more secure in “Fighter,” where he plays a trustworthy, well-put-together, decent guy with a clichéd thirst for vengeance.
Anand joined Shah Rukh Khan’s meteoric comeback train last year, scoring a huge hit with “Pathaan.” However, Anand appears to have found a better partner—or perhaps a better platform for his star—in Roshan. Roshan, as opposed to Khan, draws the audience in, which is beneficial for Patty’s melodic sequences and aerial combat. In each instance, Roshan uses his distinctive hazel-green eyes to produce a powerful performance.
Having said that, “Fighter” could justifiably be retitled “Believer,” considering the extent to which its storyline challenges Patty’s belief that India will consistently confront and vanquish its adversaries. Even if you view the film critically, you may still find its added aerial pursuits to be exciting, especially if you see and hear it in a good multiplex. “Fighter” delivers on most of its promises while never deviating from the course that other films of a similar nature have already taken.