War is a circus with superstars, that’s allThe film is little more than a vehicle for superstars Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff to showcase their fighting and dancing abilities, and it doesn’t want to be anything else.
Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
The quintessential Bollywood superstar is conventionally attractive, generally fair skinned and with a physique that boasts of hours sweating in the gym. He is someone who can romance the heroine while dancing, flying, kicking, and punching. He can deliver one-liners dramatic enough to make the audience swoon, and long after the film is over, these superstars will have made their way into their audiences’ hearts. Remember Salman Khan’s hairstyle from Tere Naam (2003)? Or when Hrithik Roshan compelled all of us to shake a leg to ‘Ek pal ka jeena’ from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai (2000)? These superstars are everything we are not.
The new film War is a celebration of that very Bollywood superstar archetype. It feeds our glorification of the one-dimensional, perfect human being who only exists in films. Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff come together for the first time and for two hours thirty six minutes show off every bit of the hero they were trained to be. Remember these are both star children and Bollywood is in their veins. Roshan has the better acting chops but Shroff squares things with 360-degree backward flips, wall climbs, twists and leaps. They have similar hairstyles, flexibility and immense fighting abilities, all of which are the hallmarks of this film.
The filmmakers seem to be acutely aware of their prime assets’ abilities—both physical and commercial—and have taken great care to develop their characters. But only their characters. The heroes get almost too much attention. Each gets an introductory slow motion walk shot, specific theme music, and a very expensive song sequence designed to show off their dancing abilities.
Sadly, that’s all there is to this film. The writing and plot are generic, confusing, absolutely silly, or borrowed from Hollywood films (read: Mission Impossible). The story by Siddharth Anand, also the director, and Aditya Chopra, also the producer, starts with Kabir (Roshan), who has defected from the Indian Army, and Khalid (Shroff) his protégé who wants to know why.
The first half of War is told through flashbacks from Khalid’s perspective. Two years ago, Khalid was a lieutenant looking to regain his respect. His father was a traitor who betrayed his motherland and by association, Khalid’s family and his childhood. In a flashback within a flashback, bullies call him a traitor’s son, beat him to a pulp, and partially damage his right eye. He wants acknowledgement from his mentor Major Kabir, the man he worships. But Kabir wants nothing to do with Khalid because Kabir was the one who killed Khalid’s father. Kabir believes that Khalid is a traitor just like his father. However, upon Colonel Luthra’s (Ashutosh Rana) request, Khalid is accepted into Kabir’s team. They consequently go to a mission together. Unsurprisingly, Khalid performs his martial arts and gun shooting skills tremendously well, leading to the mission’s success. Kabir is impressed and promotes Khalid to captain.
The second half of the film is from Kabir’s point-of-view, also told through a flashback. Kabir is in search of his arch-nemesis Rizwan Iilyasi (Sanjeev Vasta). To capture Iilyasi, he befriends a civilian asset, Naina (Vaani Kapoor), a club dancer and single mother.
As her last assignment, he asks Naina to infiltrate Iilyasi’s hideout and gather intelligence. Naina reluctantly agrees, asking Kabir to take care of her daughter if anything happens to her. Kabir agrees, primarily because he has feelings for Naina. Things go wrong, and Naina dies. Kabir suspects that there is a mole in his team and so, goes rogue trying to flush out the mole by going on a killing spree.
There are other characters in the film, like Luthra, Kabir’s team member Aditi (Anuprika Goenka), and Khalid’s mother (Soni Razdan). But their only purpose is to provide exposition and explain to the audience what’s actually going on. The screenplay, written by Sridhar Raghavan and Siddharth Anand, lazily follows one simple rule—provide exposition, change locations and shoot a chase sequence. The only creativity here is the mode of transportation. Consequently, we get to witness chase scenes with cars, airplanes, trains, bikes, and parkour through locations like Syria, Delhi, Iraq, Portugal, and even the Arctic Circle.
With every chase sequence, Kabir gets a step closer to Ilyasi but the mole keeps evading him, until a final twist. While it might not be prudent to reveal the twist in a film review, it is so bizarre that it needs to be mentioned. Khalid is the mole. Through flashbacks, we understand that Khalid is long dead and a minor character, Saurav, has been given Khalid’s face through plastic surgery. The filmmakers stay true to their promise of a final fight sequence between Tiger Shroff and Hrithik Roshan. And they do so by completely changing Tiger Shroff’s character. Indian TV series have turned plastic surgery into a trope, using it any time they need an actor replacement. The filmmakers use the trope here to replace characters.
The film attempts to borrow heavily from a lot of Hollywood spy films, which makes the tone inconsistent. For example, Khalid’s introductory shot is a fight scene in a seeming one take. Since we see this at the beginning, we expect other sequences to follow this aesthetic choice popularised by the John Wick (2014-19) series. But all other fight scenes have shaky cameras and quick edits reminiscent of the Jason Bourne series (2002-2016).
Remember the plastic surgery? Well, that scene looks exactly like one from Face-Off (1997). Most action scenes are directly inspired by Mission Impossible (1996-2018) series. This is done to such an extent that the audience cannot tell if the filmmakers are paying tribute to the original or blatantly stealing. Remember the motorcycle chase on the streets of Paris from Mission Impossible: Fallout? This film has one with Tiger Shroff and Hrithik Roshan. Remember the iconic shot where a knife comes dangerously close to Tom Cruise’s eye in Mission Impossible 2? Well, War has a dagger coming at Hrithik Roshan’s eye.
The only good thing about War is that the filmmakers are aware that this film is a spectacle, nothing more. Yash Raj Films, the production house, has spared no expense in execution with an international calibre production team. But they’ve only done so because they know there is a huge audience for these films, and for both its leading men. All said and done, this film is little more than a circus and it doesn’t want to be anything more. We can only hope Nepali filmmakers don’t take many notes from it.
WarStarring: Hrithik Roshan, Tiger Shroff
Story: Siddharth Anand, Aditya Chopra
Director: Aditya Chopra
Stars: 1.5 out of 5