Sunday, January 28, 2024


It's not unusual for Indian movies to start with a wall of disclaimers to let you know that no offense was intended or harm was done - recall, for instance, the very specific list of animals we are assured were CGI-created in RRR - but the one before Fighter was absolutely crazy, in English but too much to take in even for those of for whom it is our first language. Some of it, I suspect, is things that I really don't know how to parse, like how the one character in a turban is portrayed as a gullible goofball, though I've got no idea if that's a common thing to do with Sikhs (or if I'm wrong to assume he's a Sikh), and that's why there's something about no disrespect meant to any ethnicity/religion/caste, while others seem to be trying to do a little cover on how the movie kind of progresses from the villains being "Jaish" terrorists (which I took as "not-quite-Da'esh") with many Pakistani officials kind of nervous about associating with them to a more nationalistic finale.

Some of it was just weird to me, though, like a mention that there was no exploitation of children involved or endorsed, and considering that there aren't any kids in the movie, what is up with that?

One thing I find interesting after watching a number of these Indian action movies over the past few years, though I really can't guess as to its significance, is that every time the stakes escalate enough that the Prime Minister is involved in a decision, he's played by an actor who kind of looks like Narendra Modi if you squint, and we don't generally do that when portraying the President in the USA: Depending on the movie, we'll go for some genetically capable-looking upper-middle-aged guy (a William Sadler type) or someone aspirational (Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact), or make him/her a specific character. It could be entirely practical; by the time a movie finishes production, we may have a new President, given the four-year election cycle, while parliamentary systems may have more stable leadership. But it is something I noticed this time!


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2024 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon 3D)

I wonder if, at any point, filmmaker Siddarth Anand and the rest of the people involved with Fighter asked how close the music could get to Top Gun without infringing, before realizing Viacom18 and Paramount were related companies. It's an association that does this decent-enough military action flick no favors, as it's not going to get anywhere near the weird horniness of the original nor is it going to go to the insane lengths the sequel did for realism. It's entertaining enough, but is also the kind of blockbuster that isn't going to do something interesting or surprising with its big budget.

It introduces the audience the the "Air Dragons", an elite unit in the Indian Air Force that includes the IAF's top pilot, Shamsheer Patania (Hrithik Roshan), call sign "Patty"; old classmate and wingman Sartaj "Taj" Gill (Karan Singh Grover) and his back-seater Basheer "Bash" Khan (Akshay Oberoi); veteran pilot "Rocky" Rakishi (Anil Kapoor); and rescue helicopter pilot Minal "Minni" Rathore (Deepika Padukone), among others. Patty is cocky enough to get on Minni's nerves but she can't help but be drawn to him, although it's clear Rocky wants no part of him in his unit. Meanwhile, Pakistan-based "Jaish" terrorist Azhar Akhtar (Rishabh Sawhney) is planning an crippling attack on the air force base at which they are headquartered, which would leave India vulnerable to an attack by Pakistani ace "Red Nose".

As Top Gun knockoffs go, it's not bad, although there are plenty of times when it doesn't seem like Anand, Ramon Chibb, and the other writers started from "air force movie" and never really came up with a more specific hook. You can set your watch by when certain bits of the plot will happen, and the relationship between Patty and Minni never really seems based on more than Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone being the biggest stars/most attractive people in the movie than anything else (I'm not saying that Anand should have made a detour into Vertigo territory, but Patty's dead fiancée was a helicopter pilot in his unit - this should be something people comment on!). The patriotism/nationalism is laid on very thick, to the point of literal flag-waving. Also, by the end you've got to kind of wonder if this was really the whole "Jiash" master plan, because a great deal of time is spent talking about what a menace Akhtar is compared to him doing stuff that seems particularly clever and dangerous.

The aerial action obviously isn't exactly going to be on the same level as what we got in Maverick, but it can nevertheless be a lot of fun, especially when Anand is translating the let-us-say-heightened slo-mo craziness Indian action has become known for to something you might do with fighter jets, with physics-defying spins, zooming through explosions, and unlikely angles of attack, with the FX and 3D work being awfully darn solid, if one is not going out of one's way to compare it to a movie that a Hollywood studio would drop a couple hundred million dollars on. Akhtar not being a fighter pilot means that they're eventually going to have to get things down on the ground, which is maybe not necessarily the climax one might hope for.

The film manages to get further than it might on a pretty nice cast, even if Hritak Roshan and Deepika Padukone kind of seem like they're on parallel movies rather than one where they're supposed to be falling in love. Roshan is pretty good at giving the movie what it's asking for, though; he's aged into a guy whose wear projects both confidence and vulnerability. Less seems to be asked of Padukone, which is a shame. Anil Kapoor winds up the MVP, projecting restrained anger even when he's erupting, hitting the spot where one buys him as a grizzled veteran who can still step into a plane and show the others a thing or two, even if one maybe looks askance when told another character is his younger sister rather than his daughter. Rishabh Sawhney gets an "introducing" credit as Akhtar, but could maybe grow into being part of the next generation of Indian action stars, although it's kind of comical how muscular he is here.

It's not a bad flick, if not quite as jaw-dropping in either realism or the lack thereof as similar movies. Between Anand, Roshan, Padukone, and Kapoor, there's a lot of top-level blockbuster talent here, enough that they could have gotten away with doing something a little more unexpected with the basic premise.

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