After the physics-defying stunts of Pathaan (2023), the expectations were high for the action scenes in Fighter (2024), which is essentially director Siddharth Anand’s fanboy tribute to the Top Gun films and the Indian Air Force. Starring Hrithik Roshan as Shamsher “Patty” Pathania — if you thought that call sign was questionable, there’s a grown man who is called “Nauty” (not a typo and yes, the pronunciation is “naughty”). Anil Kapoor’s character goes by “Rocky”. Reader, the struggle is real — and newcomer Rishabh Sawhney as India’s nemesis, Fighter is eventful. Bombs explode at regular intervals, Sukhoi whizz around like they want to be ice skaters in the sky, and there’s much yelling. Despite all this, there’s not much plot and even less characterisation. However, in our quest to find positives among negatives, here are the stunts that we found memorable in Fighter.
The shadow of Top Gun: Maverick (2022) looms large over the aerial action in Fighter. Every time Patty and his team take their Sukhoi aircraft for a spin, you can’t help but remember Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski. Much like Maverick, Patty likes to make an entrance and in his first scene, he lands only after pulling off a set of elegant (but unnecessary) spins. Patty’s commanding officer doesn’t approve, but everyone else does. Later in the film, we see dogfights in which aircraft swoop and flip around with almost balletic grace against the picturesque background of the Himalayas.
To Fighter’s credit, most of the film’s computer-generated imagery is well done. Occasionally, you can detect the artifice of the green screen and visual effects, like when two characters eject out of their craft just as it explodes, but the aircraft look largely credible even if what they’re doing stretches credibility. There is, of course, a slow-mo moment when the enemy pilot looks up to see Patty’s aircraft flying upside down above him. However, the manoeuvre that Fighter favours most has the Sukhoi do an almost 90-degree climb straight up so that the aircraft is practically vertical in the sky. Freud would probably have felt immensely validated by how a male-dominated film like Fighter has the aircraft take on a distinctly phallic shape. The ability to thrust upwards in this particular manner is depicted as a show of strength, almost always executed by (middle-aged) men.
An Indian chopper has been brought down by terrorists and the injured pilot finds himself in the punching line of the baddest of bad guys. The terrorist beats him mercilessly, all the while taunting the Indian. “Say Jai Hind,” he roars, while stamping down the Indian’s face. The Indian is sure his jaw is going to be broken, but then, surprise! The terrorist’s boot does not land on his face! He opens his eyes to see the boot hovering a few inches above him, held aloft by a hand that is attached to fighter pilot Patty. “Say it,” says Patty, his eyes glinting with rage and patriotic tears. “Jai Hind!” roars the battered Indian. Meanwhile, possibly because he doesn’t want to ruin the moment or ask logical questions (like, how did Patty get to this place when he was ejecting himself out of an exploding aircraft seconds ago?), the terrorist waits, one foot on the ground, his other foot in Patty’s hands. Only after “Jai Hind” has been said to the Indians’ hearts content do Patty and the bad guy get down to their hand-to-hand combat.
At one point in Fighter, Hrithik Roshan’s Patty has a Pakistani pilot on his tail. The enemy has hit Patty’s aircraft a few times and a missile is locked on Patty. Trying to lose both missile and enemy pilot, Patty opts for a low-altitude path over a lake which makes the Sukhoi look like it wants to be a dinky little seaplane. At a critical moment, Patty’s aircraft spits out something that looks vaguely like gigantic nunchucks, which makes both the missile and the Pakistani aircraft explode. Military and aviation experts will probably not bat an eyelid at this moment, but for civilian audiences, it’s a perplexing moment since no one explains what came out of Patty’s aircraft.
It isn’t enough that Patty is a pilot. The hero of Fighter is very literally aerodynamic as he guides a jeep to an ascending ramp and then leaps out of it to dangle photogenically from the chopper being piloted by Deepika Padukone’s Minni. The bad guy tries to follow suit, but our hero has thought this through. He’s belted the villain’s leg to the jeep so all the bad guy can do is clutch wildly at Patty’s trousers while Patty (trousers intact) flies to safety. Take that, Icarus.
Fighter wants us to believe many incredible things, but perhaps the one that most stretches the imagination is the idea that Hrithik Roshan furrowing his brow and saying “Please” will convince someone to give up a plate of biriyani. Early on in the film, we’re told Patty’s “Please” would charm anyone and everyone when he was a cadet. In one of the few scenes where Deepika Padukone isn’t crying and has lines, a disbelieving Minni lays down a challenge for Patty. Can his pretty “Please” convince two women at a nearby table to part with the biriyani they’ve ordered for dinner? Patty accepts the challenge and saunters over to the table where two chubby women are about to dig into their biriyani. We’re supposed to believe that him smiling and saying “Please” would convince them to hand over both their plates of food to him. In a film filled with stunts that demand the suspension of disbelief, this is the one least rooted in laws of logic. Because unless the biriyani is seriously dodgy, we’re here to inform you it’ll take a lot more than Roshan leaning forward and saying “please” to get any sensible hungry woman to part with her dinner.