Since there are various kinds of nationalism, patriotism, and jingoism coursing through the veins of India right now, let’s make a few things clear. A critique of a movie on the Indian Armed Forces (in this case, it’s the Air Force) is not a critique of the Indian Armed Forces. There are plenty of people in the realm of journalism and the armed forces who are doing that in the appropriate fashion. Additionally, a critique of the fictionalized depictions of the atrocities faced by the Indian Armed Forces isn’t a critique of the real atrocities by the Indian Armed Forces. It’s apparent from the “Thank You” notes to the government, defense ministry, and several other ministers and whatnot that Fighter is a propaganda film. So, I have to treat it as a propaganda film. And the most important point that I have to clarify before moving forward with the review is that, apart from the VFX and CGI, nothing about it is good in terms of quality. Hence, I have to take it to task based on its artistic merits.
Siddharth Anand’s Fighter, which he has co-written with Ramon Chibb, while the dialogues have been written by Hussain and Abbas Dalal, opens with a terrorist group promising to bring India to its knees. Then, the movie turns the clock back by one year to introduce Azhar Akhtar, who is working with the terrorists and the Pakistan Armed Forces to attack India through the Srinagar Air Force station. After that, we meet Bash, Taj, Minni, Sukkhi, Unni, Patty, and their higher-ups, Rocky and Debojyoti Biswas. They go on training missions together, and they party together to form a bond. But their relationship and their expertise are put to the test when the terrorists decide to bomb a CRPF convoy, and they are asked to retaliate. When that mission is done and dusted, the team goes back to partying. However, that period of enjoyment doesn’t last long since Pakistan fires back and even captures Bash and Taj. While they are tortured for no apparent reason, the Indian Air Force kind of plans how to bring them back and deal with Patty’s unwavering sense of arrogance. And that is the movie.
To Fighter’s credit, it is so overwhelmingly jingoistic, stupid, and boring that I don’t even know what the first thing is that I should talk about. Okay, let’s appreciate the one good thing about the movie and get it out of the way, i.e., the VFX and the CGI by Redefine and DNEG. It’s pretty flawless. Yes, the CGI-heavy action sequences are overly reliant on what we’ve already seen in Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick. But the lack of originality and horrendous presentation is Siddharth Anand’s fault. The VFX and CGI artists have clearly worked tirelessly to ensure that the lighting, the texture, the weight of the aircraft, and the terrain and skies that the pilots zip through look good. That said, it’s unfortunate that the choppy editing absolutely sucks out the energy and impact of those scenes. The constant back and forth between the shots from the cockpit, the external shots, and the shots of the control room is so repetitive, and the shots themselves have such bad composition that it gets really annoying really soon. I mean, if Siddharth Anand, Satchith Paulose, and Aarif Sheikh really wanted to rip off Maverick, they should have focused on Joseph Kosinki’s direction, Claudio Miranda’s cinematography, and Eddie Hamilton’s editing instead of trying to ape the moments that people have already seen in a better film.
Now, we were all aware of the fact that Siddharth Anand isn’t very original, but since the bigotry in his movies wasn’t that obvious, we used to ignore that and say that his references were his way of paying homage to his heroes. But since his bigotry has become more and more obvious with each movie, with Fighter topping the charts, I have to state that he is not only unoriginal, but he makes movies with bad intent in his heart. He spends the first few minutes blurring the lines between terrorists residing in and around Pakistan and the government of Pakistan. There are a few lines of dialogue where someone states that the “war against terror” doesn’t involve the ordinary populace of Pakistan to show that the Indian Air Force doesn’t want to harm innocent civilians. But then again, during the concluding moments of the film, Patty channels his inner Tara Singh and shouts about forcefully “occupying” every piece of Pakistan and treats Kashmir like a commodity that India “owns.” So, if a Pakistani character is being crass, then it’s bad, but when an Indian character is being crass, then it’s supposed to be good? It smells like hypocrisy.
Then there’s the religious aspect of it all. Like a lot of Indian propaganda films, Fighter shows how religiously motivated the terrorists and the government of Pakistan are through its visuals and dialogues, with the minority community of that country being largely absent. Anand goes a step further and portrays some of Pakistan’s officials in the stupidest light imaginable as they are thwarted by an Indian pilot pretending to be a Russian who can’t speak proper English (that scene is so unnecessarily long). But in stark contrast to that, the government and soldiers of India are shown to be singularly dedicated to the concept of an irreligious and unified India. They can seamlessly oscillate between English and Hindi. They wear their caste on their sleeves, and it’s not looked down upon. The one character from the minority community of India dies to prove how loyal he is to his country, and his religion is brought up during his funeral. A male double agent walks around the Indian Air Force base in a “burqa” to conceal his identity, and it’s largely treated as a joke. In doing so, Anand makes it clear what he thinks of the aforementioned communities, or at least how he wants to portray them in front of the millions of people in India. However, if Anand takes a gander through society, he’ll probably notice that his brand of bigotry has become outdated, and a new color of bigotry is selling like hotcakes in town. And I hope that he eventually realizes that it’s pointless to keep up with hateful trends and fruitful to unite everyone by punching up, metaphorically and maybe literally.
The tonal whiplash between the international rivalry and the interpersonal drama is enough to give any sane person a headache. But as you are recovering from that, you’ll probably suffer from some more whiplash caused by the wild tonal shifts in the interpersonal drama. On one hand, Anand and his team ask their audience to take all of these pilots very seriously. They have deeply tragic histories. Patty has a dead fiance, and Rocky has a dead sister, thereby completing Anand’s trilogy of “dead women motivating men,” which he started in War (Kabir’s love interest), continued through Pathaan (Jim’s pregnant wife), and reused in Fighter. I doubt this is the last that we’ll see of this trope, but I hope that sense prevails and Anand moves onto a progressive trope. Minni gets a “jilted misogynistic father” trope. But in the character’s first on-screen appearance, she is objectified by Bash, even though Bash is a married man. Then, she spends the rest of the film objectifying Patty. Well, to be honest, Patty is objectified by everyone. He himself uses his “attributes” during some unfunny “comedic” scenes. However, he is also supposed to be a guy who is “broken” from the inside, and Minni wants to “fix him” (which triggers the Tamasha war flashbacks). Why does the only professional woman on the team of warriors have to spend a major chunk of her screentime pining over a man? Didn’t Anand notice that Phoenix didn’t need to have a romantic interest to justify her screen time while ripping off Top Gun: Maverick? Well, at the cost of sounding repetitive, I hope someone knocks some sense into him, and he learns how to tell his own stories while maintaining a consistent tone instead of taking notes from everyone else and making a mess out of it.
Coming to the visuals, it looks like an ad-film. I mean, Fighter is literally littered with product placement. When it’s not selling a food-delivery app, a phone, or paint, it’s advertising for the Indian Armed Forces. And in the rare moments where it isn’t selling anything, the colors, the camerawork, the composition of the shots, the air force base, the interior of Patty’s house—everything looks really inauthentic. I have already talked about the bad editing during the action scenes, but the dialogue-heavy scenes are no different, and the movie is chock full of dialogue-heavy scenes. None of the shots last very long on the screen, thereby making every scene feel rushed and exhausting. I don’t know how the movie has an U/A rating despite having multiple scenes featuring graphic violence. I suppose if a movie professes nationalism, then it’s okay to have gore and blood on full display. I don’t know who is okay with a movie milking the deaths of soldiers in such a gross way, but I am not. The performances from the cast are fine. They shout when they need to. They cry when they need to. They dance when they need to. However, all of it is soulless. I don’t know what Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, and Anil Kapoor saw in the script that made them sign on the dotted line. Maybe they just wanted to see what it felt like to ride the tide of jingoism. Well, I hope it was worth it.
All in all, Fighter is a poorly made, bigoted, jingoistic, and boring movie. The filmmaking on display is bad. The story and the storytelling are horrendous. The performances are forgettable. If you want your dose of toxic nationalism so that you can fantasize about the Indian Armed Forces occupying Pakistan, just re-watch the trailer because that line is there in the trailer. Given how that moment arrives at the tail-end of the movie, I don’t know how gung-ho you will be about hearing it on the speakers of the theater. By the way, if you are actually gung-ho about hypernationalism, please calm down. The world doesn’t need any more angry people. If you want to see computer generated fighter jets engaging in dog fights, get any of the video games that are centered around airplanes and war, and you are set. If you want a propaganda film with a good storyline, characters, cinematography, editing, score, direction, VFX, SFX, CGI, stunts, production design, costume design, sound design, pacing, and lots and lots of thrilling moments that feature fighter jets, just go and watch Top Gun: Maverick.