“Do I have to do everything?” When Patty (Hrithik Roshan) refuses to do more than glance at her, Minni (Deepika Padukone) becomes exasperated. Siddharth Anand does not prioritize romance in Fighter. Given the actors, the film’s ending kiss is criminally insipid. Fighter proves that chemistry takes more than two beautiful people in a frame, which is expected from Anand, who started his career in family dramas and romantic comedies.
The Siddharth Anand School of Seduction
Anand quickly developed a formula of tropes to express his characters’ pining and lusting as a writer and director. A clichéd ‘love at first sight’; a sarcastic deception; an opulent, anchored focus on a man’s naked upper-body; slow-motion, close-up shots of the woman’s jazzed-up face. The man’s neat infatuation with the woman in the first half and his pragmatic mulling in the second; the woman’s deliberative dip into love and then her itching clarity. Courtship is often fueled by sexual desire and platonic reverence, rooted in the male perspective but embracing strong-willed women.
A Rip in the Hindi Rom-Com
In Salaam Namaste (2005), Anand’s directorial debut, Nick (Saif Ali Khan) and Ambar (Preity Zinta) play out the enemies-to-lovers and lets-move-in-together-immediately tropes in days. The film showed a live-in couple navigating a romance during an accidental pregnancy, breaking the mainstream Hindi rom-com mold.
Ambar is cocky and self-assured throughout the film, but she is coy about sexual desire. While her urge is strong, Anand’s character is gendered. Despite her initial reluctance and concerns about being with Nick, Ambar shows virtuosity that Nick doesn’t need to impress the audience. Even though Ambar scrutinizes her actions more than Nick, the film doesn’t condemn her sexual desire or brazen execution.
Nick and Ambar live together when they sleep together for the first time. Nick nicks himself while shaving while Ambar is caring for him. He lies on the bed, worried about blood and doctors. She suggests imagining her in a towel to distract him with induced horniness. Nick suggests acting on the imagination she nudged him toward after shaving. Nick changed course after making it clear that living together wasn’t a shortcut to sexual satisfaction. His gentle suggestion that they have sex and the scene’s physicality emphasize his lack of control. Anand puts Nick under a bedsheet on the bed with Ambar watching. Ambar contemplates this action, which we assume is meant to show her virtue, but she gives in to his pleading.
Layering Tradition with Modernity
Anand’s romances are deceptively traditional, but what keeps them buoyant are the progressive cuts in a conservative frame — a child out of wedlock (Salaam Namaste), a woman astutely questioning if marriage can compromise her lifestyle and economic independence (Bachna Ae Haseeno), the woman who doesn’t need saving and holds her own next to a super-spy (Pathaan), and a woman chugging water as a man’s body is flagrantly displayed for ogling. Anand wrote Hum Tum (2004), Yash Raj Films‘ will-they-won’t-they romantic comedy about a womaniser and an uptight woman who argue and make brazen gendered proclamations before succumbing to each other. Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) follows a casanova who apologizes to his past lovers after his girlfriend, who is sceptical of marriage, rejects his proposal.
Bang Bang (2014) mixed romance and action, with an introverted bank receptionist being enticed into international espionage by a handsome man. Bang Bang’s straight-and-narrow heroine Harleen (Katrina Kaif) lets Rajveer (Roshan) convince her she’ll be safe with him despite his criminal activity. When Harleen discovers Rajveer, the man she went on a date with, is a skilled thief, she finds herself embroiled in an international relations crisis.
While being hunted by the Indian government, an organized crime network, and the British government, the two plot in Prague. They press their bodies together in an alley to hide from police officers lurking nearby. Harleen coyly but hypocritically chastises Rajveer for thinking they could kiss. She whispers that she has experience and had a peck or two. She quickly kisses his lips to prove a point. Rajveer then tells Harleen that kisses can be longer, lingering, and erotic, and he shows her how.
Using Desire to Create Nuance
In Bang Bang, Harleen frequently gazes at Rajveer’s abs-covered body, which Anand lavishes on her. She alternates between contemplating Rajveer’s massive mission and how she has been romantically assimilated into it and his teasing upper body, which breaks the linearity of this thought. Rajveer offers Harleen a real way to kiss, which is easy to interpret as sexist because the man is more experienced than the woman, but Anand also reveals that Harleen is an introvert who struggles to leave her comfort zone. Bang Bang fits into an introvert’s fantasy of getting that nudge to act on their yearning while conforming to traditional sexual intimacy.
Rubai (Deepika Padukone) contrasts with Ambar and Harleen’s shyness about sexual expression. Pathaan, where the coy female lead is replaced by a woman who dominates the relationship, is the most seductive example of Anand’s post Bang Bang female leads’ sexual willpower. Pathaan (Shah Rukh Khan) follows Rubai’s lead (literally) into Jim’s lair in the early chapters of their relationship, even though he eventually takes the spotlight.
A Russian Hotel With a View
As well-matched couples go, Rubai’s stylish wardrobe shows how sensual (and strong) she is physically, while Khan’s vulnerability and dignifying gaze seduce. Rubai, a Pakistani spy, and Pathaan (Shah Rukh Khan), an Indian intelligence agent, agree to conceal their collaboration to defeat Jim (John Abraham). They share a tree-colored Russian hotel room with luxury amenities and a window view of the building they want to target for their secret mission.
Rubai strips and wears a sexy black bra at night, watching Pathaan’s goggle. She then sensuously lies on the bed and asks for his help with her wound, winking. Pathaan agrees. He reveals how he got his name. The two agents’ fiery chemistry complements Rubai’s tender gaze. The elegantly choreographed action sequences in Pathaan showed that they match each other skill-for-skill. Passion replaces mischief in their flirting.
Unfortunately, Minni and Patty have no such moments. Fighter reduces the complex topic of how seduction can move from yearning to a gripping desire to a superficial glamour. The testosterone-fueled drama hides a workplace romance in which two coworkers navigate a friendship rife with temptation and dating taboos while working in a high-risk job. Unfortunately, Fighter had no time or space for these ‘softer’ angles and didn’t see Minni as more than a prop in Patty’s story. Romance and desire deviated from the plot, but like many of Anand’s films, they could have deepened the Fighter’s formulaic flatness.