Skip to main content

They gone and done it – India, perhaps the world’s biggest importer of weapons has produced its own version of Top Gun, imaginatively titled Fighter.  With generous help from the Indian Air Force, Fighter is a war on terror spectacular, pitching the brave men and women (mostly men) of the Indian military against nasty Muslim terrorists who want to overrun Kashmir.  It is one of this year’s more blatant propaganda films, and thus it would be remiss of me not to review it.  Especially since it came out in January and I’ve only just watched it.

Over the last few years this site has expanded its focus to encompass productions supported not just by the American and British governments but many other countries too including China, Russia, Germany, Spain and other NATO members and allies including Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Norway, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece and Croatia (many of whom worked on the third and fourth seasons of Jack Ryan, alongside the CIA).

Thus, it’s no surprise to find India jumping on the bandwagon, through one of its most successful film makers – Siddharth Anand.  Very much India’s answer to the enduring question that is Michael Bay, Siddharth has produced the action blockbusters Bang Bang and War, as well as the Bollywood spy thriller Pathaan, one of the highest-grossing Hindi films of all time.  The opening credits of Fighter include a disclaimer declaring that:

This film is a tribute to the Indian Air Force.  The makers of the film salute the courage, bravery and gallatry of the Indian Air Force, who valiantly fight for our country and for humanity.

Then, just in case you missed that in the big disclaimer about alcohol, tobacco, ethnic and religious sensitivity and the rest, there’s another caption:

This film is a tribute to the fearless air warriors of the Indian Air Force, past and present, who have dedicated their lives to defending our skies and borders with unparalleled courage and unwavering commitment.

The movie was partly shot at Hyderabad, Pune and Tezpur Air Force bases, the Indian Ministry of Defence and Indian Air Force are credited right at the front of the movie, as is the Chief of Air Staff and various other military officials.

Credit from Fighter (2024) thanking the Indian Ministry of Defence and Indian Air Force

Credit from Fighter (2024) thanking the Indian Ministry of Defence and Indian Air Force

You see, this is how you make it nice and clear that your film is military propaganda – you say so before it even begins.  The British MOD and the Pentagon should take note, rather than cowering and not even asking for a credit at the end of the film.  They could learn a thing or two from the courage, bravery, gallantry, valiance and commitment of the IAF.

Fighter opens with a flashback to one year before the events of our story, and a secret meeting between Muslim extremist leaders in Kashmir and generals from the Pakistani ISI.  A senior Kashmiri terrorist/freedom fighter has been killed, crippling their ability to launch attacks, so the ISI call in a super terrorist with extra long hair to get the job done.  Super terrorist explains to the extremists and their state sponsors in the Pakistani government that they made a mistake with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, by using Pakistanis and thus revealing their hand and becoming a laughing stock in front of the world.  He declares that they will strike at the heart of the Indian military, even naming Srinagar Air Force Station as his first target.

Cut to Srinagar Air Force Station, rows of gleaming fighter jets and two pilots riding motorbikes with the sun gleaming behind them.  No, I’m not kidding.

Motorbikes at an Air Force base in Fighter (2024)

There’s something very familiar about all this

That’s our set up – the Pakistani government are sponsoring terrorists in Kashmir and despite the best efforts of the brave, courageous, valiant IAF the threat remains as serious and long-haired as ever.  While there can be little doubt that the Pakistani government, especially the ISI, are sponsoring terrorists in the real Kashmir, it’s hardly as though the Indian government have clean hands (Lt Col Purohit, I’m looking in your direction).

However, in the world of Fighter the Pakistanis are ghoulishly evil and the terrorists they support are dead-eyed menaces, while the Indians are clean shaven, single and ready to mingle.  This include Minni, who is introduced via a slo-mo helicopter landing complete with nice close ups of her lips and aviator sunglasses.  She is the token female/feminist recruitment object/sex appeal character, and much like Phoenix in Top Gun: Maverick, she’s there to be looked at and not say much.

Phoenix from Top Gun Maverick and Minni from Fighter

Spot the difference

I won’t labour the point – Siddharth was tasked with delivering India’s Top Gun, and that’s exactly what he did, almost down to the frame.  The only meaningful difference is that the enemies are clearly identified – the Pakistani ISI and the terrorists they support – and the geopolitical stakes are obvious – Kashmir should, apparently, be part of India and that’s the end of that.

Nationalist sentiment is becoming more prominent in India, the second richest nuclear power in Asia, and while the film makers have tried to make it clear they aren’t vilifying all Pakistanis, I can only imagine that many Pakistanis won’t see it that way given that they are represented in the film solely by their evil deeds, including dialogue references to real life bombings and other attacks.  On the other side of the opinion spectrum, when the film-makers arranged a special screening for over 100 IAF officers shortly ahead of the film’s release in January, the IAF labelled Fighter the ‘best film ever’, though to be fair some people said that about Top Gun: Maverick.  Stupid people with the memory of a goldfish, to be sure, but it’s a common moniker to attach to a motion picture.

It isn’t certain exactly how much input the IAF had on the script for Fighter, and since I’m not an Indian citizen I have no power under their Right to Information law so I’ll be unable to obtain the relevant documents.  And they’d probably be in Hindi anyway.  I would ask any reader who does have Indian citizenship to file such requests, but given the fairly draconian nature of the information laws in India perhaps it’s not such a good idea.  However, if you’re feeling vexatious then get in touch and we’ll hash something out.

Fighter is due to be the first in an aerial action franchise, presumably all set in the brave, fearless, glorious, courageous, valiant and gallant world of the Indian Air Force.  All we need now is the Pakistani ISI to produce their own film depicting the characters in Fighter (and I use the word ‘characters’ advisedly) as secret terrorists murdering Baluchi babies in the name of humanity.

Actually no, we really don’t need that.  But it’s probably happening anyway.