After a very long time, Bollywood has written something, something good, something powerful. Transforming a single line story into a 2-hour long film is not an easy task and often writers and directors lose it somewhere in between. But they have done it. This story is not about its characters but about human values in adverse circumstances. The director Raja Krishna Menon and the writers Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair, Raja Krishna Menon and Rahul Nangia have given you something worth your money and time. The real beauty is not in what they have shown but how they have shown it.
The first 5 minutes made me doubtful about what I am going to watch but the moment the war breaks out, the film is on track and never loses it afterward. A super rich and powerful business person Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar) could have comfortably escaped with his wife and child but decides to help 1.7 lakh fellow Indians after they are rendered homeless when Iraq invades Kuwait in 1990. His wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur) initially rejects his idea as utter madness but later, predictably, understands and supports him. People are being shot without any warning, tanks taking over the streets, houses are burnt, but this man is focused, unperturbed. He is the last man to take the flight to India in world’s largest rescue operation by the Indian Army and Air India. No one plays the hero in this film. It’s the human values that take the front seat. Take a scene where Akshay Kumar is about to get shot by an Iraqi soldier, suddenly thousands of Indians come in front of him and just stand there. Akshay is recharged by this show of solidarity and strength and asks the soldiers to run for their life. You can understand the filmmaker’s emphasis on human values by the fact that there is not a single negative character (except the unnamed Iraqi soldiers). Even the Iraqi major, played by Inamul Haq, cannot be tagged as outright negative.
Akshay Kumar is unbelievably good. I have never seen him better. His transformation from a selfish greedy businessman to a messiah is very natural and authentic. He is subtle and sincere. His sincerity is a message to all the so called superstars (so many times in the film I felt that through his performance he is shouting in his own style “सूपरस्टार हूँ मगर मूफ़त का नहीं ख़ाता”). I think after Herapheri this is the first time he is in full control of himself. His superbly controlled performance perfectly syncs with the demand of the script. The scenes where he does not react and keeps silent to continuous whining of George, played effectively by Prakash Belawadi or when he looks in the eyes of his driver’s wife after he is killed in front of him prove my point. Nimrat kaur is expectedly good in her part and provides a good support to the story. Kumud Mishra as the Babu, who is doing everything he could to bring his people back, is a delight to watch. It’s refreshing to watch a government officer in good light. Purab Kohli and his short story provides the much needed emotional quotient to the film, otherwise the story lacks the emotions that are required to bring out the tears.
The camera work, especially the scenes where it’s handheld and shaky adds value to the story. I cannot complain about the background music this time.
Airlift invokes patriotism without any direct references. The moment someone hoisted the tricolor in Jordan, the theater was filled with deafening whistles and people were shouting for overwhelming joy and pride (some people got carried away and started abusing Pakistan too).
I must say at this point this may not be a world-class artistic presentation and has its limitations. The environment is not politically charged enough to show the required tension, even the talks about Saddam and America seem immature and fake. And it is certainly not Hotel Rwanda (I heard someone comparing the two). We should celebrate that someone in mainstream Bollywood is trying to be brave and we must not do what we did to Drishyam.