The multi-starrer, aerial-actioner, Fighter released last week and is having a steady flight at the box office. The Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, and Anil Kapoor ensemble has managed to rake in about Rs 130 crore till its first Monday. Numbers aside, the Siddharth Anand directorial is being lauded for its technical prowess but is also attracting criticism over its overly nationalistic stance and its similarities with the Top Gun film series. Fighter is also marked by many firsts. As per the makers, it is Hindi cinema’s first true-blue aerial actioner. The film also brings together Hrithik, Deepika, and Anil for the first time on the big screen.
We speak to actors Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, Anil Kapoor and director Siddharth Anand on the making, the influence of the Tom Cruise film and the “jingoism” label.
There must be a lot of energy-exchange on set when two star-actors work together for the first time. Hrithik, how was the experience of working with Deepika?
Hrithik Roshan: I think everything becomes easy when two actors come to set as actors and are focussed on interpreting the lines and making a scene better. Deepika brought a lot of realism to the film. Each line she said came from such depth that I was just constantly bouncing off of her performance. Thanks to her, every scene between Patty (his character) and Minni (Deepika’s) seem so vulnerable and endearing. There is another incident I remember, when we were shooting for ‘Sher Khul Gaye’. I was putting in a lot of effort to get the steps right. But when I saw Deepika doing the same step, it looked so effortless. I asked her to demonstrate and when she did, I just copied what she was doing.
Deepika Padukone: I was actually doing it so badly that he now knew what not to do (laughs)
HR: No, no (laughs). The thing is I got too lost in the technicality of a step. When I saw Deepika do it, I understood how easy it had to be.
Anil, you play a no-nonsense Commanding Officer in the film. How did you approach the role?
Anil Kapoor: Generally, for any role, you first internalise the character and then transform your appearance. For Rakesh Jai Singh aka “Rocky”, I first focused on the physicality of the character before internalising it. Contrastingly, for Animal’s Balbir Singh, it was more internal than the external part of it because I was also playing my age. For Rocky, the first step was to get his walk and the way he speaks. I am a big fan of the George C Scott starrer Patton (1970). To get into Rocky’s character I revisited that film.
Fighter revolves around an elite wing of the Air Force. The protagonist is a rebel, a maverick, eager to flout rules. Was the Top Gun series an influence?
Siddharth Anand: I don’t think Fighter has anything to do with Top Gun, except for the fact that that film had aircrafts and even this film does. By that logic even War (2019) and Pathaan (2023) are the same because both those films had car and bike chases. This is a Hindi film, inspired by a true incident that our Armed Forces went through in 2019 (Pulwama attack). That incident was the only trigger for us to make the film.
HR: I don’t think Patty and Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun) have anything in common. Pete is a rebel without a cause, that’s just his character. Patty’s arrogance is a force-field. He doesn’t allow people to know him because he is going through grief. He is not a rebel. He is just protecting himself by not opening up too much to people.
After the pandemic, big stars are seen only being part of big-budget films. Is it impossible for mega stars to do mid-budget movies like a Piku or a Guzaarish?
HR: It’s absolutely possible. Why would anyone not want the scope of our films to be as wide? I have done many films where box office was not in the calculation at all. I did some films because they touched my heart. As actors we need to be slaves to our instincts, there can be no mathematics in that.
DP: The space for mid-budget films is still there. The writers have to write. It is all a matter of time. Post-Covid, what has happened is we are making a lot of assumptions about where we are headed. We are jumping too soon on making conclusions like only the big-budgeted films are working. Pre-pandemic I have done many films which didn’t work at the box office, like Finding Fanny (2014), and Chhapaak (2020). Even after the pandemic, I did a Gehraiyaan (2022). As an actor I am keen on telling a story. It doesn’t matter if it is via a film worth Rs 500 crore or Rs 50 crore.
Pakistani actors recently took to social media to slam Fighter and state that it is anti-Pakistan, Siddharth, what is your stance?
SA: This film is based on a real incident and we have just depicted that. It is important for them to see the film in that context before reacting. The primary thing, which we have also stated in the film, is that our war is not against a country, it’s against terrorism.
But there is a scene in the film where Hrithik’s Patty threatens to take over Pakistan and make it IoP (India Occupied Pakistan), don’t you think it is jingoistic?
SA: Jingoism, in my opinion, is a matter of perspective. I think I would call this film more nationalistic than jingoistic. These lines, in the context of the film, are being told to a terrorist, to warn him not to keep pushing us. This is a patriotic, Indian film.