Then again, surprises aren’t the main draw in “Fighter,” whose creators stick closely to formulaic story beats and other Bollywood-centric melodramatic tropes. Much of the movie focuses on the camaraderie and romance that unites two exemplary Indian Air Force pilots, played by co-leads Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone, and a few of their comrades. “Fighter” still inevitably concludes with an overheated stand-off in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, as well as a teasing threat that the next fight could be in, “Indian Occupied Pakistan.” “Fighter” was a hit this past weekend, despite being banned from theatrical release across the gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates.
The makers of “Fighter” attempt a few standard dodges, as far as their characters’ motivating nationalism. It’s not the Pakistani people who are vilified, according to the movie, but rather a group of India-hating terrorists, led by unapologetic leader Azhar Akthar (Rishabh Sawhney), and oh yeah, the Pakistani Air Force, since they let Akhtar’s group cross the Line of Control that separates Indian and Pakistani territory.
In this light, it makes sense that the makers of “Fighter” used the Pulwama attack as the model for their fictionalized dramatic catalyst, since it left 40 Indian soldiers dead and wasn’t directly caused by a nation armed with nuclear weapons. In real life, Modi’s administration has been accused of ignoring or even suppressing intelligence reports that might have prevented the Pulwama strike. You’ll find no such criticism of the Indian government or its army in “Fighter,” as one might expect from a movie that’s clearly modeled after a “Top Gun” sequel.
The movie’s Indian Air Force drama is also pretty by the numbers, from its romantic musical numbers to its “Top Gun”-style chain of command Air Force drama, which mostly concerns flag-waving rebel pilot Shamsher “Patty” Pathania (Roshan) and disapproving Group Captain Rakesh “Rocky” Jai Singh (Anil Kapoor). Patty and Rocky butt heads, but they inevitably pull it together for a dangerous mission, which climaxes with a hilariously over-the-top game of chicken. It’s not an especially realistic confrontation, but neither are the preceding scenes where Patty and his fellow Air Force pilots both work and play hard. A representatively energetic, but unexceptional musical number features lyrics like, “The lions are on the prowl tonight.”