War does more for Bollywood’s action genre in its first 10 minutes than most mainstream attempts at action have managed with their entire run times over the last few years.
From an explosive opening scene with a fun little twist, right down to the opening credits, we are told loud and clear that the film knows exactly what it is – an unapologetic explosion of swag and style that it isn’t looking to take itself too seriously. Then, of course, comes that Tiger Shroff long take entry scene.
We have a severe ‘action problem’ in Hindi cinema. Our filmmakers’ approach to action is an ongoing exercise in showboating and exaggeration leading to hyper-processed sequences which usually involve people flying in various different directions, trigger-happy cutting and slow-motion overkill. It’s an approach that leaves any actual talent or impressive stunt work essentially pointless. Sequences become so ‘treated’, they lose their edge.
But here we get Tiger Shroff entirely in his element with the single most impressive action scene of his career thus far, with a marvellous one-take shot that sees him take down an entire room of bad guys. This is a rare instance of pure action craft and filmmaking…In a Tiger Shroff scene. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. Finally, we have a film that knows how to use him and channel him into something actually cinematic. That the entire scene unfolds without music – a brave choice by Bollywood’s blaring background score standards – tells us once again that our focus should be on the execution and that the film isn’t looking to hide behind the noise or packaging to be impressive.
Despite his sketchy filmography (Ta Ra Rum Pum, Anjaana Anjaani, Bang Bang) director Siddharth Anand, a filmmaker most wouldn’t have given a second thought to, comes into his own here with a film that will be seen as his game-changer. Among his many achievements with War, is his clear understanding of the action genre.
From co-writers Anand and Sridhar Raghavan, War also manages to give us a competent plot that somehow never gets away from itself. The first half is simply your definitive unrelenting great action flick with almost every beat and moment and sequence leaping off the screen, leaving you with a gushy smile that just won’t budge. Post-interval things venture into more twist-heavy silly territory. But even at its silliest (no negative connotation) it’s never not fun and doesn’t come undone.
But competent plot and impressive sequences aside (Tiger’s entry, Hrithik taking down a plane mid-air, a bike chase through a city and so many more) perhaps director Anand’s greatest achievement here is knowing how to use his stars. He so perfectly nails the novelty of the ‘two-hero film’, milking the ‘holy shit’ factor for all it has without overdoing it, stressing and underlining to just the right degree.
It goes without saying that War is a meta film which builds on the existing personas of both its stars and takes them to new levels entirely. Just compare Tiger’s frenetic entry scene – ass-kicking back-flipping everything in sight with Hrithik’s soon-to-be-iconic introduction scene. All this dude has to do is walk from a helicopter to a house in what must be 30 metres and he’s never looked better. Even the pair’s first mission together behind enemy lines highlights their electric chemistry with Tiger’s eager to impress protégé to Hrithik’s cool cat tough-love-dad act. It’s a thing of beauty.
War is an unapologetic Hrithik Roshan vehicle throughout (no seriously has he ever looked this cool onscreen?). As Kabir, Roshan has a blast with a role and us with him, exuding such ease and calm and confidence, essentially just hanging in the background letting Tiger’s Khaled have the spotlight because deep down he knows it’s his film to own. He’s almost too cool in some scenes and doesn’t exactly blend into his surroundings like his job requires.
And yet, for this writer, it is Tiger Shroff who emerges the real victor here. Not only because it’s clearly his best film, but simply because he agreed to be a part of it. Aside from the fact that they managed to pull off a two-hero show of this scale in an industry where most stars refuse to share the big screen, as Khaled many would say Tiger got the short end of the stick, making this that much more of a courageous choice. This is the same Tiger Shroff who’s thus far only been a part of projects where he is the film, having famously refused to be a part of projects unless they’re written for him and offered to him first. For him to agree to do this is nothing short of respectable and we can only bloody hope it isn’t a one-off. Though that isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of moments where he breaks into monologuing and begins ‘acting’ and that same old synthetic sincerity shines through. Among the supporting cast, the always dependable Ashutosh Rana and Sacred Games‘ Anupriya Goenka both shine. Despite a fleeting role, Vaani Kapoor proves memorable and I maintain she’s an underrated talent that deserves better roles.
In the end, War is the definitive Bollywood action film of its time. I came away impressed, hopeful and bloody excited to see it again.