With a story inspired by real-life events, a director taking to the mainstream for the first time and a cast that seemed fresh, ‘Airlift’ was full of promises. Director Raja Krishna Menon had first-hand accounts of events that led to an evacuation of Indians from Kuwait when the its war with Iraq happened, under the rule of Saddam Hussein. As such, it very much looked as if ‘Airlift’ was a film about one of the most important times in Indian history and surprisingly one that had been untouched on celluloid – not to mention it being an occurrence many Indians were completely unaware of.
Akshay Kumar plays Ranjit Katyal, a well to do businessman residing with his family in Kuwait in 1990. When Hussein’s Iraq decides to takeover Kuwait, he war begins and Katyal is one of many Indians stuck in between. In an attempt to flee back to India with his family, he comes across his co-workers, their families and other Indian people in the same plight. Determined to help them, he slowly begins to piece together a way to rescue them by somehow getting them all back to India – will the obstacles that come his way break him or will be keep trying?
It has to be said that Menon has kickstarted his mainstream Bollywood career with a film that is a great watch. The intricate thought processes and actions of each character coupled with a very worthy and relatable ensemble cast (including Feryna Wazheir and Purab Kohli), the story of Ranjit Katyal comes through as sincere and inspirational. The character of Katyal is said to be based loosely on a real man who currently lives in Kuwait and in the film, there is no better person than Kumar who could have played him. With him at the forefront of the film, Menon’s direction of something he described in an interview with BizAsia as what should be one of the most celebrated achievements of India takes on a whole new meaning. Menon’s attention to detail is impeccable as is the portrayal of desperation, strength, community spirit and struggle.
Many have said that ‘Airlift’ is one of Kumar’s best performances til date and it definitely is. However, it is also highly refreshing and effective to see Kumar in a role where he turns into a hero – without the need of umpteen songs, comic influences or indeed an item girl in sight. Instead, ‘The Lunchbox’ (2013) actress Nimrat Kaur play’s Kumar’s wife but she is definitely not a wallflower. Her character is also stubborn, seemingly supportive (especially as the story unfolds) and strong in her own right. The way Kumar and Kaur compliment each other is indeed one of the film’s high points, often being the one thing that remains at an everyday level even when the story feels extraordinarily unbelievable. Having said that, the audience’s attention does not part at any point. The plot remains as engaging to start as it does to end and this is something that is difficult to achieve for any filmmaker.
The soundtrack of the film is a little disappointing but it can be said that such a film doesn’t need to rely on a good, popular album in order to create an impact. ‘Soch na sake’ is particularly touching but the song which encompasses the film comes at the end in the form of ‘Tu bhoola jise’. Arijit Singh, Amaal Mallik and Ankit Tiwari seem to have made an appropriate album for the type of film ‘Airlift’ is.
There’s not a lot that sets ‘Airlift’ back as a package. However, it might’ve been that little bit more impactful with dialogues that were memorable. This can be forgiven though because the story is one that will hopefully stay with people in their hearts. At many times, Kumar has been heard saying that the film is not about patriotism and it really isn’t. It is, instead, about a community coming together, about people helping their own people, about one man who was adamant that he would not leave his country’s people behind in favour of his own safety. It is also, it has to be said, about an event in India’s history that should never have been forgotten in this way and it is all because of Raja Krishna Menon that it is now being brought to people’s attention through cinema.
BizAsia Showbiz rating – 4/5