‘Fighter’ movie review: Hrithik Roshan film is visually compelling, but emotionally stunted 

Siddharth Anand’s aerial action film offers impressive visual fidelity, but its one-note triumphalism and sentimentality dampen the fun

January 25, 2024 03:35 pm | Updated 04:15 pm IST

Hrithik Roshan in ‘Fighter’

Hrithik Roshan in ‘Fighter’

Fighteris a film about loving your nation, though that’s a secondary concern. It is, first and foremost, a film about loving Hrithik Roshan. The snow-covered peaks and valleys of Jammu and Kashmir pale before Roshan’s immaculate jawline. At 50, he dances like this is his first film, blushes like it’s his second or third. There are loving closeups of his hazel green eyes, and a shameless pan on his unclothed frame. Perched by the fireside, he recites a rousing sher, but what really sells the moment is how he flutters his eyelids and quietly sidles away, the gentle and melancholic soul we’ve come to admire over the last 24 years. Even his character’s call sign — Patty — is enunciated by men and women alike with a scrumptious crunch.

Patty, or Shamsher, is a decorated squadron leader in the Indian Air Force (IAF). Along with Minal (Deepika Padukone), Sartaj (Karan Singh Grover) and several others, he’s posted in Srinagar in an elite quick-response team overseen by Rakesh Jai “Rocky” Singh (Anil Kapoor). Rocky and Patty are almost instantly at loggerheads; “no fancy stunts,” the group commander insists, almost as a come-on. During a training exercise, Patty pulls a Cobra-like manoeuvre forcing Rocky to overshoot and wind up in his sights, one of several instances where Fighter tips its hat to the Top Gun franchise

If you’ve watched the trailer of Fighter, you know what’s coming. After terrorists blow up a CRPF convoy ferrying dozens of jawans — a recreation of the 2019 suicide attack in Pulwama — India mulls a response. It moves to obliterate a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Balakot, on Pakistani soil, with Patty and Sartaj backing up the primary jets. They succeed, but are lured back across the Line of Control (LOC) in a subsequent pursuit. These events roughly align with real-world skirmishes between the neighbouring nations, and Fighter’s triumphalist tone — the film has been made with the active co-operation of the Air Force — leaves little room for ambiguity or doubt. 

Siddharth Anand directed two of the most visually compelling action films of recent years, War (2019) and Pathaan (2023). Fighter offers impressive visual fidelity, seamlessly blending real-world aircrafts with what must be computer-generated models in the trickier scenes (DNEG, the international VFX house behind Dune and multiple Bond movies, has handled the effects). I watched the film in 3D and wasn’t left constantly readjusting my vision as I did during Adipurush. The Balakot strike unfolds in the cover of night, a dozen Mirage 2000 fighter jets scorching clean contrails against the exploding earth. 

Fighter (Hindi)
Director: Siddharth Anand
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, Anil Kapoor, Akshay Oberoi, Karan Singh Grover
Run-time: 166 minutes
Storyline: The events leading up to, and following, the 2019 Balakot airstrike by the Indian Air Force

There is, however, a chink in the film’s glossy armour. The dialogue writing — by brothers Abbas and Hussain Dalal — is painfully off. Almost from the start, Fighter speaks the language of the grim and gratuitous Hindi war film. Though India had termed the 2019 operation a ‘non-military preemptive strike’ (at least officially), Patty clearly frames it as ‘badla’ (revenge). “Show them who is daddy,” the nation’s leader says, the sort of heedlessly aggressive language likely to get hoots in 2024. The 2019 film Uri: The Surgical Strike basically functions as a prequel: from threatening home invasion (“ghar mein ghusega bhi, marega bhi...”), we have graduated to talking complete military capture (“We will make you IOP.... India Occupied Pakistan!”) 

It’s disappointing to see Roshan — one of our most effortless movie stars — operate in a cinema of this tenor. His characters in the past have worn their heroism lightly, not lashed out like Sunny Deol or Suniel Shetty from Border (1997). An interlude where Patty is demoted to flying instructor and has to help a nervous trainee pilot make a safe landing is better matched with Roshan’s tempo. Padukone is at sea even when in air; a stolid awkwardness underscores her chemistry with Roshan. The villains are such grotesque caricatures that even limited actors on the Indian side like Grover end up leaving a mark.

If you care for Hindi cinema, Fighter will delight and depress you in equal measure. Hindi action films have been an eyesore in our recent cultural output. They tend to lack coherence, fluidity, polish, photorealism. Anand delivers on all these fronts, but ultimately serves up a film that’s haughty and stunted, with the emotional maturity of a six-year-old. Watch Patty trash-talk his opposite number over the radio. They’re like kids exchanging insults in the playground, not disciplined aviators in a combat scenario. Is this what we have come to demand as a cinemagoing nation? I, for one, cannot wait for the box-office numbers to come in. Fighter feels the need, the need for greed. 

Fighter is currently running in theatres

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