Review: ‘Fighter’ (2024), starring Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone and Anil Kapoor

January 26, 2024

by Carla Hay

Deepika Padukone, Hrithik Roshan and Karan Singh Grover in “Fighter” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Fighter” (2024)

Directed by Siddharth Anand

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and in Pakistan, the action film “Fighter” features an Indian and Pakistani cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force battle against Pakistani terrorists led by a ruthless sadist.

Culture Audience: “Fighter” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of simple-minded and lengthy action movies that overload on jingoistic messages.

Rishabh Sawhney in “Fighter” (Photo courtesy of Viacom18 Studios)

“Fighter” has plenty of energetic action and musical numbers. There’s equal-opportunity eye candy. But it’s also awfully predictable and aggressively jingoistic. It looks like wartime propaganda and a very long recruitment ad for the Indian Air Force.

Directed by Siddharth Anand and written by Ramon Chibb, “Fighter” (which takes place in India and in Pakistan) rips off some elements of 2022’s “Top Gun: Maverick” and injects the movie with the cinematic version of steroids. “Fighter” knows that many of its action scenes are unrealistic. It knows that the way the hero zips in and out (and back again) of his military job completely misrepresents the real procedures in military protocol. That’s not the main problem with “Fighter.”

The main problem is that for a movie that is 166 minutes long, there is no real suspense. It’s just a series of high-octane fight scenes (the best part of the movie) with a predictable romance and a very sloppy subplot of the movie’s “hero” having career problems. After a while, it all becomes so formulaic and corny.

The jingoism in the movie also borders on xenophobia against Pakistan. The terrorists in “Fighter” happen to be from Pakistan, but there are parts of the film that make it look like Pakistan is to blame overall for much of the mayhem that ensues in the story. In the movie, all the Pakistani people with significant speaking roles are terrorists, which is a terrible and offensive stereotype.

The “hero” of the story is Shamsher “Patty” Pathania (played by Hrithik Roshan ), the squadron leader of his Indian Air Force team of fighter pilots. Patty (just like Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell character in the “Top Gun” movies) is a charming and handsome daredevil who often defies orders, which sometimes gets him into trouble and often frustrates and annoys his commanding officer. Patty reports to Rakesh “Rocky” Jai Sing (played by Anil Kapoor), a no-nonsense group captain who frequently reprimands Patty when Patty gets out of line and does something careless while on duty.

Patty’s obvious love interest is Minal “Minni” Rathore (played by Deepika Padukone), who is on the same fighter pilot team. Minni is strong and independent. Every time Patty tries to impress her, she acts like she doesn’t care. She doesn’t play hard to get with Patty because she actually is hard to get. Because “Fighter” is a completely predictable film, you can almost do a countdown to the parts of the movie were Patty and Minni have verbal disagreements when Minni tries to pretend that she’s not attracted to him, and then things happen that change her attitude toward him.

Minni has an emotional barrier around herself because she has a vulnerability that she doesn’t like to talk about: She is estranged from her parents Abhijeet Rathore (played by Ashutosh Rana) and Usha Rathore (played by Geeta Agrawal), because her airline executive father vehemently disapproves of her being in the Air Force as a pilot. Abhijeet thinks that women shouldn’t be in military combat, and he expects Minni to be a traditional wife and mother.

And it wouldn’t be typical action hero movie if the hero didn’t have some emotional pain too, usually because of a death of a loved one. In Patty’s case, he had a fiancée named Naina, nicknamed NJ (played by Seerat Mast, shown in flashbacks), who was a flight lieutenant in the Air Force. She died in a helicopter crash because of a decision that Patty made. Patty has been living with the guilt ever since. NJ’s relationship with one of Patty’s colleagues is revealed later in the movie. This revelation isn’t a complete surprise.

The other people on this Air Force team are squadron leader Sartaj “Taj” Gill (played by Karan Singh Grover), squadron leader Basheer “Bash” Khan (played by Akshay Oberoi), squadron leader Sukhdeep “Sukhi” Singh (played by Baveen Singh), Rajan “Unni” Unninathan (played by Mahesh Shetty), flying officer Manoj “Birdie” Bhardwaj (played by Nishan Khanduja) and wing commander Harish “Nauty” Nautiyal (played by Chandan K Anand). Along with Patty and Minni, they are all tight-knit and spend a lot of their free time with each other.

Unfortunately, everyone on the squad except Patty and Minni are utterly generic characters. It’s one of biggest failings of “Fighter,” which is trying desperately to be India’s version of “Top Gun: Maverick.” At least in the “Top Gun” movies, there are at least four fighter pilots who have personalities that viewers can tell apart from each other. That’s not the case with “Fighter.”

Meanwhile, the chief terrorist is Azhar Akhtar (played by Rishabh Sawhney), a muscular brute who does what terrorists do in movies like “Fighter.” When he’s not killing people with bombs, guns or other weapons, hate-filled Azhar snarls, stomps around, and yells at people. His personality is just a soulless void, as he says nothing that is memorable in “Fighter.”

How do you know that “Fighter” wants to be like the “Top Gun” movies, besides the airplane stunt scenes? Patty spends some of his time courting Minni by giving her rides on his motorcycle, just like Tom Cruise’s Maverick character does with his love interest in the “Top Gun” movies. Something happens to Patty as “punishment” for being reckless, and this plot development is straight out of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

To its credit, “Fighter” delivers some variety for people who don’t want to see fight scenes all of the time in an action movie. There’s some emotional drama, some romance, and the obligatory scenes of scantily clad Patty and Minni as they frolic on a beach or cavort in large groups during the movie’s song-and-dance numbers. The acting isn’t horrible, but neither is it great.

“Fighter” is sure to be a crowd-pleaser for many people in the movie’s intended audience. The movie obviously had a large budget for visual effects, some of which look dazzling and realistic, while some of the other visual effects look ridiculously fake. However well-intentioned the movie is in portraying Indian patriotism, it shouldn’t have to be at the expense of making another country look like the enemy when the two countries are not at war with each other in this story. “Fighter” just took the lazy way in telling this story, which comes across as a big-budget, derivative video game.

Viacom18 Studios released “Fighter” in U.S. cinemas and in India on January 25, 2024.

Review: ‘Samrat Prithviraj,’ starring Akshay Kumar

June 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Akshay Kumar in “Samrat Prithviraj” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Samrat Prithviraj”

Directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and Afghanistan, between the years 1177 and 1192, the action film “Samrat Prithviraj” has a nearly all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Prithviraj Chauhan has battles with rivals over his leadership power of Delhi.

Culture Audience: “Samrat Prithviraj” will appeal primarily to viewers who are looking for a biopic action film that relies heavily on shallow and violent clichés instead of being an accurate historical drama.

Akshay Kumar and Manushi Chhillar in “Samrat Prithviraj” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Samrat Prithviraj” is an example of a biopic that’s a huge waste of time and money. This sorry spectacle amounts to nothing more than looking like a big-budget, mindlessly violent video game version of the story of real-life Indian historical figure Prithviraj Chauhan. The movie’s epic fight scenes in battlefields look very fake and hollow. And the human interactions that don’t involve fighting are also poorly contrived and acted. With a total running time of 135 minutes, this bloated and repetitive mess wears out its welcome very quickly and then drags on until its very predictable end.

Written and directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi, “Samrat Prithviraj” (which means “Emperor Prithviraj” in Hindi) is just a series of historically inaccurate scenes showing feuds over power and revenge. All of the cast members just look like they’re going through the motions with no authentic-looking feelings. In some parts of the movie, it really does just look like a video game. There could be CGI visual effects instead of real actors, and there wouldn’t be much difference in the performances.

The movie, which takes place in India and Afghanistan from 1177 to 1192, opens with an over-the-top unrealistic scene taking place in 1192 in Ghazni, Afghanistan. A stadium full of people will be witnessing the torture of a blind prisoner fighting off three lions that have been set loose in the stadium. That prisoner is exiled Indian leader Prithviraj Chauhan (played by Akshay Kumar), whose eyes are missing for reasons shown later in the movie. The scene is grossly unrealistic in how Prithviraj, who is armed with an axe and a spear, is able to kill all of the attacking lions. After he kills the lions, Prithviraj collapses from exhaustion.

“Samrat Prithviraj” (whose original title was “Prithviraj”) then shows flashbacks that depict what led Prithviraj to this far-fetched “battle with the lions” scene. The story goes back a few years before in India, where Prithviraj gets caught up in a power struggle over leadership of Delhi. It all starts when Prithviraj is ruling over Ajmer, and he is visiting the land of Kannauj. It’s where he meets and falls in love with a princess named Sanyogita (played by Manushi Chhillar), whose ruthless king father Jayachandra (played by Ashutosh Rana) does not approve of the relationship.

Meanwhile, back in Ajmer, Prithviraj offers asylum to a man named Mir Hossain (played by Anshuman Singh), who has come to Ajmer because he ran off with a woman named Chitralekha, who was the concubine of Hossain’s brother Muhammad Ghori (played by Manav Vij), the sultan of Ghor. Ghori dispatches an underling named Qutb al-Din Aibak (played by Sahidur Rahaman) to Ajmer, to send a message demanding that Prithviraj send Hossain back to Ghori, or else Ghori threatens to declare war against Prithviraj and the people of Ajmer.

Prithviraj refuses this demand. And you know what that means: Ghori and Prithviraj go to war. Soldiers from their respective lands getting caught in this power struggle, and often lose their lives as a result. One of the casualties is Mir Hossain. Prithviraj is victorious in this war. Ghori is captured, but is then foolishly released a few days later.

Prithviraj then becomes the ruler of Delhi, which he inherited when the previous ruler gave the leadership of Delhi to Prithviraj instead of a biological heir (his grandson), who becomes yet another person to hold a grudge against Prithviraj. With Prithviraj now the ruler of Delhi, this rise to power does not sit well with Jayachandra, who does not want his daughter Sanyogita to marry Prithviraj.

Sanyogita and Prithviraj get married anyway. As the saying goes: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And so, this marriage leads to Jayachandra forming an alliance with Ghori to get revenge and kill Prithviraj. Eventually, the movie shows what happened after Prithviraj fainted in the stadium after he killed the lions.

“Samrat Prithviraj” has several mind-numbing battle scenes that should be suspenseful but they actually become very boring after a while. The scenes that don’t take place on a battlefield are just as monotonous. Supporting characters—such as Prithviraj’s closest confidant Chand Vardai (played by Sonu Sood) and Prithviraj’s uncle Kaka Kanha (played by Sanjay Dutt)—are completely underdeveloped.

Worst of all, “Samrat Prithviraj” does very little to make viewers care about the characters, especially because this movie looks more like an overblown fantasy film rather than a historical drama based on real people. Everything about this era’s conflicts between Hindus and Muslims is over-simplified to the point where none of it is believable. “Samrat Prithviraj” shows what can happen when filmmakers take a lot of money and put very little of it to good use.

Yash Raj Films released “Samrat Prithviraj” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on June 3, 2022.

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