Making a feature film on a true event can be tricky. More often than not, filmmakers tend to take creative liberties and one gets to see a watered down version of a real-life event suitably commercialised to be consumed by the audience. Director Raja Krishna Menon’s ‘Airlift’, based on Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, has Akshay Kumar playing the central role. Akshay’s character is based on two men who led a group of 170,000 Indians who were stuck in war-torn Iraq. Last year, Akshay had teamed up with director Neeraj Pandey and gave the audience an edge-of-the-seat thriller in the form of ‘Baby’. The film had a patriotic fervour to it and ‘Airlift’, too, looks like a film on similar lines.
Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar) is a shrewd businessman who lives with his wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur) and daughter (baby Adiba Hussain). Though Katyal hails from India, he does not like to think of himself as an Indian and prides on being a citizen of Kuwait, a country in which he made his fortune. Ranjit’s pride lies shattered after Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq, send his army to invade Kuwait. All hell breaks loose as the army, consisting of army personnels as well as a bunch of newly recruited 16 year olds, go on a killing spree across the country. A helpless Ranjit meets the Iraqi Major (Imamulhaq) who assures him that the Indians living in Kuwait would not be harmed and he would even make arrangements for his family to get out of Kuwait in return of a specific payment. Ranjit decides that he would leave Kuwait after making safety arrangements for his staff. Ranjit’s conscience does not let him leave the group alone and he decides that they would move out of the country together.
The biggest strength of the film is the realistic feel that the writers and the director have managed to lend. The research that the team must have done to portray the events as they happened and the realism factor has not been compromised upon to make it a larger than life affair. Every major event happening across the length of the film has been explained in great detail and nuances have been taken care of. For the people (like this writer) who had never heard of this important event earlier or the ones who were aware of the happening of such an event, the film is no less than a revelation.
While one does empathize with Ranjit as he goes about trying out several measures to lead his group out of Kuwait, there is a dearth of shock-inducing moments which you expect in a thriller. The second half, though laregely engaging, lacks the sense of urgency that the first had carried. Some of the scenes involving the camp should have been done away with. While the film maintains a brisk pace and tries to adhere to a realistic form of storytelling, it does resort to escapism occasionally. The brief fight sequence with the Iraqi soldiers does not create an impact. The songs (barring “Tu Bhoola Jise”) act as speed breakers.
Akshay Kumar delivers a solid performance as an astute businessman who transforms, as the situation calls for him to look after the people around and seek help from a country whom he has stopped referring to as his own. Nimrat Kaur performs well but her wimpish character does not hold as much weight as one would have hoped it to. Thee monologues, she gets to deliver in a portion of the second half, is the only thing that helps her stand out. Purab Kohli is wonderfully restraint as a man dealing with the sorrow of losing his wife. Imamulhaq, armed with a suitably rasping accent, carries the character of the evil Iraqi Major very well. Kumud Mishra delivers a heart-warming performance as Sanjeev Kohli. Feryna Wazheir barely gets any lines but communicates effectively through her eyes.
Raja Krishna Menon does a very good job as a director. He sets the tone for the film in the first ten minutes and does not let the film lose its grip from that point. The screenplay (Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair, Rahul Nangia and Raja Krishna Menon) is gripping but could have been better with some more twists and surprises in the store. The dialogues (Ritesh Shah) are very good with some punchy lines thrown in for good effect. The cinematography (Priya Seth) is top notch. The music (Amaal Mallik, Ankit Tiwari) is good but a film of this nature did not need songs (except for promotional purposes, of course). While most of the songs do not serve any purpose apart from adding to the length of the film, “Tu Bhoola Jise” arrives at just the right time and evokes emotions. Hemant Sarkar’s editing is razor sharp. The action (Manohar Verma) is raw.
‘Airlift’ is a well depicted account of an important event that inspires awe and respect. Though the film is bereft of clap-trap moments, the realistic narrative is filled with several engaging sequences which makes it a believable affair. Those looking for a raw and gritty thriller that also serves up enough entertainment, should not give this film a miss.