Subtlety isn’t Bollywood’s strongest suit. But the latest action blockbuster War is one of the most nuanced action movies from the industry in recent times. While also being chock-full of masala and commercial staples that the industry has to offer. I realize this sounds contradictory. But similarly, there are many elements of the movie itself that are seemingly warring with one another.
War’s marketing focuses on the movie as a typical action-adventure. Which it is. When a veteran special agent for the government goes rogue, there’s only one man that can bring him in, his own prodigy. It’s a premise that has been often explored in the genre.
War Ne Bana Di Jodi
The commercial appeal of War isn’t its story. Well, not really, but we’ll get to that. The biggest draw is its two leading men. Action hero and overall stud-muffin Hrithik Roshan returns to the genre for the first time since 2014’s Bang Bang. (Kaabil doesn’t count). And following him, (in more ways than one—wink wink) is Bollywood’s own Barishnakov and experienced leg-actor, Tiger Shroff.
As I mentioned, the story of War isn’t unique, but it’s handled surprisingly well. The script is pretty adept at balancing aspects of action, story and (implied) character development. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than most action movies that we associate with Bollywood.
There’s been a lot said about War in the weeks since its release. So I’m definitely getting into Spoilers here. For a semi non-Spoiler Movie Review, check out BollyBrit for my friend Sam’s take on War.
War Could Easily Be The Dostana Sequel We Wanted
But let’s get to the juicy bits. The biggest takeaway from War has been its overtly gay subtext between the two leads. Most reviews and social media buzz seem to focus on all the sexual tension between Roshan’s Kabir and Shroff’s Khalid.
And after finally seeing the movie, going in with these subtextual and generally high expectations, I loved War. More than I had expected.
Firstly, let’s address the muscular elephant in the room; War is an Indian action movie with two heroes who are very much not straight. Having seen the movie, it’s painfully clear to see how many audiences arrived at the same conclusion.
Khalid & Kabir Ka Pyaar (K3P)
Khalid’s depiction in the movie has been very much from the perspective of a young man without a father who’s trying to prove himself to everyone around him due to a betrayal by his own father. The boy clearly has daddy issues. Which become even more apparent when he finally meets the older Kabir and vies for his validation. And if his sexual attraction to Kabir isn’t obvious throughout the film, re-watch this key moment from the scene in the above tweet.
Kabir’s characterization is less overtly indicative of his sexuality, but it’s there. And the most revealing are his scenes with Vaani Kapoor’s Naina. His supposed love interest in the movie. But not really.
While War has that obligatory romance song with Ghungroo, Kabir’s actual relationship to Naina is a little telling of his sexuality. At one point he reveals to Naina that their relationship is a lie, and he was only cultivating her as a civilian asset for his mission. This allows Kapoor many opportunities to showcase her talent with dramatically emotional monologues about trust and love and it’s great. I mean, she’s given so little to do, that these are her ‘acting’ moments. So… sure.
War Is Out Of Character For A Bollywood Movie
But not once does Kabir try to convince her that he does love her. And for a Bollywood hero to not lay down the usual guilt trip to the heroine, is unusual. The fact that Kabir didn’t launch into his own ‘if only you knew’ monologue about his reluctant heroism and sacrificing his love for the good of the country, was extremely out of character for a Bollywood movie. Unless…of course, he never did love her. Unless he genuinely felt nothing for her. It would be a great subversion of the usual womanizing super (straight) spy, a la Bond, trope.
And yes. It’s very easy to dismiss these observations as nothing more than coincidence. Or that we’ve read too much into them, in order push a pro-LGBTQ agenda. Which, even if true, would be totally cool.
However, to think that the parting of lips by one actor when his character is totally male gazing his co-star, as the camera objectifies him is unintentional, is naive. Or you’re in denial. Let’s not even discuss that the only other time a woman showed any interest in Kabir, Khalid was there to interject and shut her down.
Why Can’t We Get A Movie With Gay Action Heroes?!
The fact that audiences have noticed the characters’ supposed sexuality in War brings up an interesting question. It made me wonder: why can’t we get testosterone-driven action movies with gay men whose sexuality is either a small part of, or has nothing to do with, the plot? As much as I love movies like Call Me By Your Name, Moonlight, and Love, Simon… I would also very much like to see a gay character lead a massive action blockbuster franchise too! Not as a throwaway character that’s there to raise the diversity quotient of the film.
And I’m completely surprised that a Bollywood movie brought on this realization.
War Is More Than Its (Now Obvious) Love Story
War is actually a well-conceptualized, well written and executed film. This the even more surprising given that I’ve not been a fan of most of director Sidharth Anand’s filmography. The story of War is well thought out. The pacing works. The action sequences aren’t hyperbolic or an intense workout in suspension of disbelief by the audiences.
The Race & Dhoom franchises are great for completely embracing the outrageous-ness of their genre. And while War falls into the same category of movies, the quality of stunts and sequences is less cringey as the others. It’s a more straight-laced action movie that takes itself just as seriously. Kind of.
And that approach felt very deliberate throughout. The final fight scene that the movie builds to sees both characters, beat up, exhausted and frantically trying to stay alive. War’s action choreography adds so much to the overall movie. The movie also features a great blend of stylized slo-mo shots, with close-quarter technical stunt work that provides a much more enjoyable experience.
Many have compared the climactic twists and turns of War to the usual Abbas-Mastaan movie, but here, they work. Which brings me to Bollywood understanding plot twists.
War Mein Twist!
Bollywood plot twists usually consist of massive exposition in the third act, supported by flashbacks to sequences unseen in the rest of the movie, all of which provide brand new information that not found anywhere else.
Whereas, a good twist establishes itself during the entire movie; the bread crumbs are there for the audience to pick up. Then the climax connects the dots into a satisfying twist that the careful audience member may have been able to piece together even before the reveal.
War utilizes this approach to its advantage, instead of a jarring pivot into a completely different movie, like most self-proclaimed Bollywood ‘thrillers’. Not to mention that the twist has incredible 70’s Bollywood thriller vibes. Ah, nostalgia.
The Performances Are Amazing Given The Material.
The film features excellent performances by both Roshan and Shroff. Roshan commands every frame with pitch-perfect delivery and style. I mean, the fact that we think he has sexual chemistry with Shroff, (muscular dancing Groot) which is supposedly unintentional to boot, is a testament to his talent.
Shroff’s performance is much more bearable and grounded, allowing his natural talent to come through instead of the forced heroism shtick he usually does. Unfortunately, once again, Yash Raj Films does Vaani dirty. Kapoor has a very unique screen presence. And while I was not a fan of Befikre, this effortless and engaging quality that she brings to her roles is undeniable. I only wish she had more opportunities, and not in guest appearances where she’s killed off to motivate the protagonist. I did say Spoilers right?
War also takes care not to fall into the typical Indian movie tropes. For the most part. Khalid being Muslim is not as big a deal as one would expect, given Bollywood’s penchant for the cheap exploitation of the public’s nationalism. Although, people throw around the word ‘watan’ a bit too much for my liking.
The movie also has much better writing than I expect from most Bollywood fluff. And War is that; a fun and frivolous experience that checks all the boxes for an impressive blockbuster movie.
And if nothing else, then it’s at least worth watching for the highly impressive dance-off featuring the two best bendy dancers in Bollywood.
War is now playing in theatres.
Let me know what you thought of War in the comment below, or on Twitter @theshahshahid.