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Fighter review: Patriotism can’t get more eye candy than this, writes Srivathsan Nadadhur

When two of the fittest, perhaps the most good-looking actors in the tinsel town – Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone – come together for a Hindi film, you’re already sold as a viewer. It would be a cliche to say that it’s impossible to look elsewhere when they’re around. The challenge for a filmmaker is to keep you invested even when the duo isn’t around on the screen. 

Entrusted with Siddharth Anand, Fighter is in safe hands, even if the trailer suggests otherwise. For all the backlash that Gadar 2 received for its exploitation of the tense political climate between India and Pakistan, Fighter doesn’t do anything drastically different. It camouflages that brand of nationalism in a tuxedo – the writing is cheesier, wittier and the execution, classier.

It takes some time to appreciate the film beyond its Top Gun hangover, more so for its aesthetic, free-flowing narrative of a flamboyant protagonist than its thematic similarity. Look past this early awkwardness and the popcorn gets crunchier. Shamsher Pathania, Minal Rathore are squadron leaders in the Indian Air Force, guiding their team to teach the not-so friendly neighbour a lesson.

The film gets away with lines like ‘Patty (Shamsher Pathania) has the attitude because he doesn’t consider himself a pilot, but a fighter’.  All it takes is a flirty ‘please’ for him to distract women from their meals or work to ogle at him. There’s no prettier sight than a tricolour wrapped around a coffin, he says. Despite the desperate dialogue-baazi, the swift narrative keeps you on your toes.

The scenes are short, crisp and Fighter keeps teasing the viewer with the edits, intentionally not allowing Patty and Minni’s lovey-dovey talk to germinate beyond necessity. While the world may remember Siddharth Anand for War or a Pathaan, he’s the same filmmaker behind the effortlessly cool Salaam Namaste and a Bachna Ae Haseeno. The experience does come in handy.

Between the cinematic highs crucial to the plot, Fighter gives the characters (and viewers) some time to breathe. If the loss of a loved one is the sore spot in Patty’s life, what Minni seeks is acceptance from family. Their superior Rakesh Jai Singh is yet to give himself the time to heal wounds from his past. Their professional and personal worlds collide but the drama is subdued, psychological.

The mumbo jumbo around airstrikes, the aviation industry contributes to the authenticity in the backdrop, though the one-dimensional approach to the Kashmir conflict and the outdated villainy are slightly disappointing (by Siddharth Anand’s standards). Provided you don’t take the socio-political subtext too seriously, Fighter chips away rather smoothly.

Distracting viewers from the primary antagonist, Siddharth Anand makes space for several mini-battles (between India and Pakistan’s pilots) and has a subplot about a double agent intriguingly named Zareena Begum. The narrative sobers down as Patty is sent on a sabbatical. He tries to rise above his past and pulls off ‘progressive’ one-liners batting for his lady love.

Even in the reflective phase of the narrative where there’s little on-field action, the screenplay is still tolerable. Yet, it can’t be an excuse to explain the silliness of Minni’s lazily-written familial conflict. A few creative risks – say, distancing Hrithik Roshan from the typical heroic moments for a larger chunk of the second hour (compensated by the rousing climax) – deserve praise.

While there’s strong emotion beneath the action sequences in the final stretches, the dialogue writing is rather pedestrian and so un-Siddharth-esque. The verbal banter around POK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) and IOP (India Occupied Pakistan) is unfortunate, even if it plays to the galleries. The lightness and joie de vivre of Siddharth Anand’s treatment is missing here.

Having worked with both Deepika and Hrithik on multiple projects previously, the director is clearly aware of their strengths and what the market expects from them. Visually, Fighter is Siddharth Anand’s love letter to the leads. It’s hard to remember a film where the duo has looked better in the recent times and Ishq Jaisa Kuch is the icing on the cake.

While you sense assurance in Deepika’s performance, Hrithik, perhaps due to his rapport with the director, has a blast and makes his internalised performance look easy on the eyes. Anil Kapoor gets another film to reassert his agelessness in a meaty role and the likes of Karan Singh Grover and Akshay Oberoi make their presence felt in brief roles as well.

Rishabh Sawnhey’s appearance, dialogue delivery is a tad too flamboyant for his part and it’s hard to believe that his character could pose a threat. Vinay Varma’s assertive screen presence makes him a perfect casting choice for an IAF commodore. Sanjeeda Sheikh and Ashutosh Rana are passable in straightforward roles, while Talat Aziz brings warmth to his cameo.

The VFX/CGI is one of Fighter’s major high points and brings credibility to the storytelling. Sanchit Balhara – Ankit Balhara’s stylish score and Vishal-Shekhar’s experience prove to be an added advantage.

Verdict:

A riveting screenplay and the technical finesse help you appreciate Fighter beyond its Top Gun-inspired aesthetics and simplistic plot. The film is a no-holds-barred fanboy celebration of Hrithik Roshan’s persona with credible performances by Deepika, Anil Kapoor and the supporting cast. 

Rating: 3/5

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