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.

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