Spirits Lifted in a High-Quality Entertainer

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Movie Review: Airlift (2016)

Director: Raja Krishna Menon

Genre: Thriller

Language: Hindi

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Prakash Belawadi, Purab Kohli, with Kumud Mishra, and Inaamulhaq as Major Khalaf Bin Zayd

Writers: Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair, Raja Krishna Menon, Rahul Nangia

Rating: 4.8/5 stars (misses out on a full 5 stars only because of the unnecessary songs)

“Airlift” is Akshay Kumar’s best movie since “Khakee” (yes, it’s even better than “Baby”) and his best performance bar none. Period! Gut-wrenching scenes, high-intensity shots, crackerjack dialogues, realistic tension, and patriotic without ever skirting jingoistic shores – the movie has all this, and then some. Based on the world’s largest civilian evacuation, director Raja Krishna Menon takes on the challenge of turning a story known to all into a compelling watch and pens a nail-biting screenplay along with cowriters Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair, and Rahul Nangia, which will keep you fearful, hopeful and yet, unsure and uncomfortable.

Set in 1990, the film introduces us to a Kuwait-based business tycoon Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar), an expat who has embraced his migrant country’s ways and pointedly disassociates himself with anything Indian. When Iraqi forces commanded by Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait, the entire country is torn by war. As battle-tanks bomb the city, the progressive escalation of war finds millions displaced. A significant number of them happen to be migrant Indians. Katyal being one of the more privileged ones, instinctively plans his own exit along with wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur) and daughter Siya (Adiba Hussain). A sudden change of heart has Katyal taking charge of the safety of his distraught employees and anyone who reaches out to him. With the country’s airports sealed by the invaders, options of exiting or entering the country are eliminated. The various escape plans that Katyal devises, makes up the rest of the film. There’s hardly any suspense about how this film folds up, but the events that lead up to the inevitable denouement pack in enough punches to keep you at the edge of your seat.

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Films like “Khakee”, “Aankhen”, “Baby”, and “Special 26” offered ample proof of how far Akshay Kumar has come from his “Aflatoon” days, but here he knocks it out of the park with a firm, sharp, and restrained yet emotional performance. Prudently, the filmmakers provide Nimrat Kaur with quite a meaty role to essay, and she supports Akshay exceptionally well – those acquainted with her acting prowess are well-versed with ability of essaying a range of emotions, and she executed the entire gamut here with effortless ease and conviction. All the other supporting players – particularly Inaamulhaq as a scheming, callous Iraqi Major, Prakash Belawadi as a perennially bickering refugee, and Kumud Mishra as the External Affairs bureaucrat who makes the operation possible – too, pull their weight in well-written roles.

Cinematographer Priya Seth deserves a special mention for strategically framing scenes to amplify the tension. Be it the shot taken through a car’s smashed windshield or the aerial ones of tanks sliding down the desert, she manages to wordlessly convey terror and compel you to imagine the devastation.

I’ll unequivocally declare that personally, I haven’t enjoyed nor taken away so much from a Bollywood movie since “Detective Byomkesh Bakshi” released some ten months ago. You are filled with immense pride as the narrative arc of these everyday characters with indomitable spirits unfold, and a sea of emotions well up within you without ever spilling into melodramatic territory. A few brave souls saved the lives of 170,000 Indians at great personal risk, and it’s time more Indian directors started telling stories like these that highlight heroic deeds of our countrymen amid both global and national scenarios. “Airlift” is just a brilliant movie overall, and no amount of accolades would suffice in bestowing praise on it. What a time to release it as well, coinciding with India’s Republic Day. If you are in the mood to be entertained, watch “Airlift”. If you are in the mood to be educated, watch “Airlift”. If you are in a patriotic mood, watch “Airlift”. You know what? Just watch “Airlift”.

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