Fighter, Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone

Imagine being starved and ordering the best sizzler cooked by a renowned chef. The anticipation of the flavours blasting in your mouth, the sound of the sizzle in the pan, the smoke wafting from it as the plate finally reaches your table. Except, it is empty with just a list of the ingredients that can make a good sizzler. Watching Fighter, filmmaker Siddharth Anand’s latest spectacle is quite like this. He gets two of the most competent, spectacularly looking actors, and serves a visual listicle: Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, peppy soundtrack, beach, kiss. It is all there, undercooked, unfinished, no sizzle, only fizzle.

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Almost a week after its release, it is safe to say that Fighter just wastes the potential of Hrithik and Deepika together. Siddharth Anand has previously and quite skillfully displayed how to mount stylish, big scale actioners. Bang Bang, War and Pathaan were an enviable mix of fan service and slick storytelling. One marveled at the set pieces as well as the scorching chemistry the filmmaker splashed on screen with his actors. Fighter packs in several aerial acrobatics, but where’s the flamboyant romance that Siddharth is known for–and promised with the film?

It wouldn’t have been even a discussion if the filmmaker wasn’t bothered about it, but the film sets up Hrithik’s cocky Patty and Deepika’s determined Minni as two lovers fighting with flames, right from their first scene. That is, on paper, because visually the chemistry remains like an agarbatti, emitting a dim light, burning away quietly, never turning into a lava. It jars because Siddharth has, film after film, genre after genre, showed that he just gets how to extract electrifying chemistry between his actors.

Hrithik and Katrina in his maiden action outing Bang Bang are solid example of what Siddharth can pull off. When the rom-com darling of the multiplex era transitioned to actioners in 2015, Siddharth told the audience that he can think of blowing up cars, filming high octane chase sequences, shooting bullets and filming actors having a good time, simultaneously. The action was amped up, but the chemistry remained intact, in fact, turned spicier. His characters meet, flirt, dance, kiss and save the world. With Bang Bang and Pathaan, Siddharth was deceptively smart, for he anchored his actioners in the heartbeat of lovers.

In both the films, the male characters’ lives alter significantly when they meet the women. The plan changes, the focus shifts, the heart summersaults at exotic locations, which Siddharth films in 48fps set to the tune of a chartbuster Vishal-Shekhar soundtrack. In Fighter, none of that happens. When the credits roll, it is clear that Patty’s life and career remained at a distance from Minni. He loves just the nation, not a woman, not even Deepika, not even when the entire film is trying to convince him to love her.

Festive offer

It hurts to see just how platonic their chemistry seems in the film. Sure, Fighter gives Patty a tragic backstory to make us understand why he doesn’t even look at the possibility of love, but one should feel the tension of Patty wanting to go to Minni but trying hard not to. The film’s writing in their portions remain stunningly one note and so low-key that on more than one occasion, it comes across that Deepika’s character is trying a little too hard to make him fall for her, when he is giving no sign of reciprocation at all. It is an awkward sight to watch, as the two sincerely try to build something romantic when it always remains a friendly equation. Patty could have done everything in the film, even if Minni remained his friend. That’s where it goes wrong.

Yes, the limitation of Fighter could have easily been that Siddharth had to show two very serious Indian Air Force officers fighting to defend the country. There are uniforms on display, not costumes, so it can’t take the frivolous fun route of Bang Bang and make Hrithik-Deepika travel around the word and picturesque beaches. It can’t even have the flirty, playful, pulpy and obviously sexy energy of Pathaan (Shah Rukh Khan) and Rubai (Deepika). So, the makers naturally place their beach song as the end credits–far removed from its world–and in fact even edited out an entire new dance number between Hrithik and Deepika from the Indian version.

Here’s where the film’s writing (screenplay Ramon Chibb, dialogues by Abbas and Hussain Dalal) should have been stronger and given Hrithik and Deepika enough moments of genuine tenderness, the fluttering of heart of meeting someone and just knowing that sparks will fly, the quick-witted flirty banter that makes one root for the lovers. In Fighter, there is no chemistry even when Hrithik and Deepika, finally after collectively saving the nation and one-sided flirting, kiss. It reminds one of what Deepika had said during her appearance on Koffee with Karan last year. “I think I have amazing chemistry with Hrithik, which everyone is going to see.” Certainly, we will. but that film isn’t Fighter, for the fragrance of the promise remains, but the agarbatti has long been put out.

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