Some events get quite etched in your mind, the Pan Am 73 hijacking is one of those for me.
Well before the time of commercial news television or tabloid press, it still grabbed the attention of Indians.
- the hijacking of a plane, that too out of India, for a cause that had nothing to do with us
- the shoddy handling of the situation by the airport authorities in Karachi, not used to such crisis on their soil.
- it happened at the height of Ind-Pak poor relations as well
- The fleeing of pilots from the plane, which while protocol was perceived in quite the negative light, especially since the primarily Indian cabin staff were left without support. PanAm did not send anyone to help the staff through the stand-off.
- Finally the extremely brave and quick actions of one staff member that saved the life of many.
Neerja Bhanot caught the imagination because she displayed qualities that one previously associated only with people in the armed forces. I still remember the ads she used to come in and her iconic Charmis cream advertisement. The smile and striking face are still etched in my memory!
I went to this one, a bit apprehensive that it would be an overly melodramatic telling of this tale…..but it nails the story in a way many Hollywood movies do.
Keeping to the real events as close as possible, the director has kept everyone real.
The house is recognizable for its eerie similarity to ours as we were growing up in the 80’s, the small rooms, cluttered kitchen and that wash basin. The glamourous air hostess does not get out of bed, with her hair & eye make up intact, the bed room is not a fancy one with lace curtains…it looks so real!
The parents who are proud of their daughter, but fussy just the same.
The banter between the young stewardesses comes across naturally.
The director Ram Madhwani, has kept the story line really tight, so other than the opening song sequence of a society party- the story does not stray much into tedious background.
I especially found the flashbacks of Neerja abusive husband & her failed marriage very well done, they don’t show any dramatic violence, but you know she had it bad. Sonam too does not dramatise too much.
He nails the terrorists really well, they come thru as having internal conflicts, differences & in the end pretty erratic- thru the film they keep to their characters, not suddenly knowing hindi or english and also coming apart when the hours just go on and on…
Sonam just nails the role, I am in awe! She brings the grit, the moments of sheer terror & her few tears for her past thru fabulously. There is no out there heroism in her, she does not sacrifice herself in a “filmy” fashion, she goes above the call of her duty, but you never get the sense that she thinks she is going to die, she does everything to live.
Her presence of mind in hiding the American passports, giving the exit door passenger the card to open the door & her concern for her passengers and diffusing the tensions in the cabin are just captured beautifully.
The screenplay moves swiftly, you never lose track of the drama, even when the scenes shift to her parents home as they hear about the incident, the director does not divert from who the story is about- no scenes of other families or people huddled around tv sets, it is just Neerja’s tale!
The final moments in the plane, the flickering lights and chaos are done with hand held cameras and longer shots, which makes the whole thing real rather than stylised.
But Neerja’s death is shown with very little drama, no long drawn out falling scene, with shocked expressions around and it is that much more real, but the best sequence in my mind was the picturisation of her parents coming to know- their is no phone call with a “NAHIIIIIIIII, yeh nahi ho sakta or grabbing of someones shirt and shaking them or the scene over the body, saying “utho naa, kuch boltey kyon nahi!”
The controlled performance by the parents is masterful!
Shabana totally kills it! Her performance right thru is so believable and understated!
Yogendra Tiku, does another totally believable dad after his role in Queen & Shekhar of Vishal-Shekhar has totally won my heart, can do music & play to quiet love interest!!
But Sonam is the star! Take back a lot of what I have said of her in the past! She has soared in the film, so much so that you forget she is NOT Neerja!
The only discordant note, was the saluting scene around the coffin- slightly filmy- but hey it’s a Hindi film after all!!!
Overall – a great watch! Go to the theatre to support decent cinema!!