Movies which “lift” their story line from real events can be a hit or miss kind of thing. In creating a dramatic tale, the movie makers take liberal poetic licence and distort the tale so much that the celluloid version bears no resemblance to the original event.
Bollywood often believes that in order to “sell” a movie, their needs to be a romantic angle, a few songs and un-natural heropanti which kills the realism. Bhag Milkha Bhag, while a great movie, suffered from this- and was somehow not fully convincing as a tale.
Other times, using a “star” to play an everyday hero, does not let the audience fully accept the protagonist as an ordinary man, doing extra ordinary things.
AIRLIFT however surprised me, by avoiding both these pitfalls.
The 1990 invasion of Kuwait is still crystal clear in many people’s minds. But many & I am one of them, did not realise what a gigantic crisis hit the ordinary Indians caught in cross fire, quite literally.
This movie captures one man’s story really well- The rich Indian expat in the Middle East, who has almost forgotten he is an Indian, his subtle air of superiority. The bored wife, ubiquitous maids and staff & the over the top parties. The 1st couple of scenes capture this really well & the take on the immensely popular “di-di” song from the early 90’s was nicely done.
The Iraqi invasion, Ranjit Katyal’s quest to get out & his meeting with the corrupt Iraqi official are slightly shaky- but the story picks up once he embarks on his mission to save all who take shelter in his office.
His efforts, the reluctantly helpful Mr Kohli in MEA, the wife who is annoyed with his sudden change to saviour & the characters in the camp are really spot on.
The screenplay is fantastic, staying on course after the 1st few scenes, the writing while good, does not have the bombastic dialogues that often accompany super stars, no witty or cute one liners. But the movie keeps you gripped.
The scenes in Delhi, with the MEA stay true to what one expects in a Government office in India, the clock watching, ignoring of the phone and passing the buck. Even Mr Kohli, is not flashy, heroic or with any great personality- but plods along and gets the job done, not even taking the accolades in the end.
However a couple of things irked in the film- With so much war footage available, using plastic looking tanks was a bit stupid! The invasion could have been filmed way better.The filming of the violence too was too fake, which was dissonant in places.
But one of the key things that I thought slipped, was the rapid change of an arrogant business man, disowning his Indianness to someone seeking help from the Indian embassy. This seemed too rapid, even for a war zone.
But in-spite of a couple of glitches, Akshay carries this movie fabulously- his understated and believable performance is riveting. Reminiscent of Baby, Special 26 & Aitraaz, his performance is absolute class! It is such a pleasure to occasionally watch a star, who does not want to rip his shirt so we can see his fake 8-10 pack abs!
Nimrat as his wife is good but the storyline did not allow her character to have much depth, which was a pity. But her attitude resonated for sure- how many times have wives told their husbands not to get involved in solving the world’s problems or Samaj Seva?
The supporting cast all seemed both plausible and believable, how many Joseph’s, George’s, Nair’s and Ibrahim’s have we seen in the Middle East?
The other thing that made it more believable is that there is not any manufactured crises in the movie- while the driver gets shot, most of the other refugees make it out alive. One soldier cops a feel at the camp, but his superior calls him off. The people are shown to be nice and coping, not all corrupt and sleazy. Which is how normal people are, there are not boogey men everywhere.
The audience spontaneously clapped as the 1st AirIndia plane took off…..It was a great feeling to realise this event actually happened- and for many NRI’s who often whinge to realise that India put out to get its citizens back.
If there was one drawback, it was that AIRLIFT did not create the drama that some of the intensely patriotic fictional accounts have done- I recall the whole theatre celebrating every wicket and run in Lagaan & every goal in Chak De…….but came out feeling good….Bollywood can occasionally deliver intelligent cinema!
While this one does not need to be seen on the big screen, I always like to see such ones in the screen- that is the only way to encourage the makers to do good stuff!