Directed by: Siddharth Anand || Produced by: Aditya Chopra
Screenplay by: Abbas Tyrewala, Shridhar Raghavan, Siddharth Anand || Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Tiger Shroff, Vaani Kapoor, Ashutosh Rana, Anupriya Goenka, Dipannita Sharma, Soni Razdan
Music by: Vishal-Shekhar, Sanchit Balhara, Ankit Balhara || Cinematography: Benjamin Jasper || Edited by: Aarif Sheikh || Country: India || Language: Hindi
Running Time: 154 minutes
Overlooking a few exceptions, I favor South Indian Cinema over Hindi-language filmmaking (also known as Bollywood, or studio productions based in Mumbai) when enjoying action movies native to South Asia. Bollywood remains the lone industrial powerhouse with regards to the cinematic musical, but by and large, its action filmmaking leaves much to be desired. While this is a rant for another time, Bollywood’s perpetual struggles with cinematic violence have long puzzled me given the stylistic overlap between shooting song-numbers and action sequences, e.g. extensive choreography and complicated blocking, precise camera movements and quick edits, their use as emotional peaks in narrative pacing, etc.
Every so often a Hindi thriller punches above its weight, however. Siddarth Anand’s War, a sort of buddy-cop/secret-agent hybrid homage to James Bond and various spy-movies of decades’ past, is one of the better Bollywood action titles of the 2010s. In addition to being the latest blockbuster to draw inspiration from movies like The Bourne Trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007), The Raid (2011, 2014), and John Wick (2014, 2017, 2019), War is notable for being one of the few high-profile Hrithik Roshan-vehicles to succeed without the guidance of Hrithik’s father, prolific actor, writer, producer, and director Rakesh Roshan, who is credited for launching his son’s career. War is furthermore the rare Bollywood action flick to pay homage to Western genre films without ripping them off or compromising its unapologetic Indian swagger (i.e. charismatic cheese) or charming musical style. Put another way, War is more Krrish (2006) than Krrish 3 (2013).
I credit veteran producer, Aditya Chopra, for striking this stylistic balance between the film’s Westernized secret agent coating and its cornball, melodramatic Bollywood core. Though the general structure and action sequences of War feel comparable to recent Mission Impossible (2011, 2015, 2018) films, the loud, ever present soundtrack, self-serious dialogue, and ubiquitous slow-motion keep the movie’s Bollywood DNA front and center, which I believe was the right move. War is a good step or two below the likes of a Rogue Nation (2015) or a Skyfall (2012) in terms of action cinematography, but those are high standards against which to compare most spy-thrillers; moreover, War’s hybridized tone means its strengths and weaknesses are diluted across its Western and South Asian influences. War is the rare blockbuster in any industry that takes inspiration from numerous sources and repackages them into a successful narrative of its own making.
As far as the movie’s strengths are concerned, War provides its main characters with enough backstory and motivation for us to understand what’s happening in the story and, more crucially, why it’s characters develop the way they do. This may sound rudimentary, but countless big-budget studio movies fail to establish the most simple justifications for character actions and development. In the case of War, its screenplay is based around the buddy cop-dynamic of leads Roshan and Jai Hemant “Tiger” Shroff, who serve on a super-elite, super-secret agent, super-spy special forces team that hunt various evil terrorists around the globe. War makes no effort to portray its military tactics or geopolitical intrigue as realistic, which is appreciated, instead embracing its near absurdist James Bond-esque premise with convoluted terrorist plots, doomsday weapons, and double-crosses galore. Despite packing as many narrative twists as action sequences, War’s structure is easy to follow and its narrative revelations, enjoyable without coming across as contrived or distracting. It packs enough surprises to keep the audience guessing, but the screenplay never forgets it’s a straightforward action movie driven by characters, not complicated plot details.
The action sequences themselves are above-average for Bollywood crowd-pleasers, meaning their enjoyable cornball antics contain just enough relatabity to generate suspense for our likable main characters. Anand seems mature enough not to let the slow-motion camerawork and expensive FX overwhelm Roshan and Shroff’s charismatic relationship at the core of the story, but at the same time sprinkles enough stylized action scenes throughout to give audiences what they paid for and keep the pace snappy. The action-packed finale in particular is a well executed, well choreographed set-piece that progresses across multiple stages involving shootouts, a vehicular chase sequence, and a satisfying climactic brawl between our main characters that completes all necessary plot threads.
The weaknesses of a film like War are par for the course for most Bollywood tentpole blockbusters: Too much, though well written, music blasts at high volumes at all times no matter how inappropriate, too much exposition slows numerous sequences and makes the movie feel like it’s patronizing its audience, the villains are forgettable, and all female supporting characters are pointless. One final problem concerns the film’s superfluous musical numbers, which is the lone unexpected weakness of this otherwise competent, recognizable Hindi crowd-pleaser. To be blunt, all song-numbers feel like a marketing afterthought to remind audiences this is indeed a Bollywood picture. There is no reason for this film to have any musical elements whatsoever besides occasional score music, but for some reason Anand feels the need to shoehorn multiple elaborate dance-numbers to pad out the running time and justify the movie’s lone female love interest.
All things considered, though, Siddarth Anand’s War is another competent, entertaining Aditya Chopra production that takes enough cues from foreign genre cinema to bolster the inherent shortcomings of most Hindi blockbusters, while at the same time embracing the unapologetic charisma of its strong leads and Bollywood tone. The film strikes a difficult balance between a generic homage to secret agent spy-thrillers and classical Bollywood theatrics, and the end result is a satisfying blockbuster that keeps its audience entertained with just enough twists, action sequences, and melodrama. Its music may be lackluster compared to most Indian musicals, but it makes up for those weaknesses with competent screenwriting and great star-power. War is worth a watch if you’re a fan of Bollywood, spy movies, or admiring Hrithik’s handsome face.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: 2019’s top grossing Indian feature learns from the missteps of Dhoom 3 (2013), Ghajini (2008), and Krrish 3, drawing inspiration from Western and Indonesian action filmmaking without forgoing the appeal of its leads or cornball plot. Its musical numbers aren’t on par with a Sanjay Bansali film, nor are its action scenes comparable to, say, John Wick, but it’s the complete package most tentpole blockbusters wish they could be.
— However… War’s musical sequences are well made but deserved to be cut. Much of its supporting cast are filler, as is the bulk of its expository dialogue.
? I’m surprised castmembers weren’t ripping off Scoobie Doo (1969-present)-masks by the end. I guess they decided the Die Another Day (2002)-route was better for their purposes.