By AYESHA BABAR
If you are looking for a well-made Bollywood film, with a sharp script and many heart-warming moments, you are in luck. Airlift, starring Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur in lead roles, released Friday and delivers a fine treat.
The film is based on one of the biggest evacuation missions undertaken to rescue 170,000 Indians who were stuck in Kuwait following the Iraqi invasion of the gulf country 25 years ago. The themes explored in the film, from patriotism to helplessness, make it a relatable affair for not just the Indian diaspora in the Middle East but anywhere in the world.
The director, Raja Krishnan Menon, doesn’t waste much time in establishing the premise of the story. We are introduced to the suave and successful Ranjit Katiyal (Akshay Kumar) who takes great pride in being a master-negotiator who has just closed an important deal. He is a man who wants little to do with the country of his birth and believes that ‘profit explains everything’. Ranjit has built his life around his small family, wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur) and daughter, Simran. All this goes for a toss, when he is woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call – Iraq has invaded Kuwait.
The story takes off (excuse the pun!) from here and we are transported into a war-torn city, deftly portrayed by ace cinematographer, Priya Seth. The Iraqi army, some of them young boys toting guns are let loose on the Kuwaitis. Airlift brings us the tale of how these circumstances lead to Ranjit Katiyal choosing to stay back in Kuwait City to become a messiah for his fellow Indians and eventually masterminding the evacuation of tens of thousands of his countrymen.
Through the honest and layered story telling we are introduced to other characters who come from very different lives but are now waiting to be rescued together in a makeshift camp. The director, intelligently, doesn’t delve on any one story for too long and yet shows us enough to convey the sense of helplessness that these characters are feeling.
Akshay Kumar shines throughout, delivering one of the finest, most- nuanced performances of his career. You see him at his vulnerable best, portraying raw emotion but avoiding histrionics that are all so common in Bollywood. Nimrat Kaur is very effective in her role as his wife, becoming the subtle support he needs. When she does speak up for her husband, she steals the scene and you realise what a welcome addition she is to the brigade of Bollywood actresses.
Other actors too bring their A-game to Airlift. Purab Kohli, Inaamulhaq and Prakash Belwadi lend believability to their roles. The scenes where Belwadi confronts Akshay at the camp becomes
one of the highlights of the films. Kumud Mishra also excels in his role as Akshay’s point of contact in the External Affairs Ministry as he tries to convince his seniors of the urgency of the situation.
The songs, while beautiful melodies, feel a little bit out of place in this gritty, thrilling drama. The ‘Arabic’ dance number could definitely have been done without.
Raja Menon, is deft in his handling of the well-written script and gets the fine balance right – He steers clear of exaggerated histrionics and sticks to telling a story of silent gallantry. The film takes a few cinematic liberties but they are so far and few in between that the overall experience remains unaffected. You will definitely leave the theatre with a smile on your face!
We give Airlift ****/*****