Friday, January 15, 2016


In 1990, we heard the distant boom of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait through a few television channels and read the atrocities in the newspapers. So, the compulsion to watch Airlift and get the inside story was very high.

The film opens by reminding the viewer that it is inspired by true events and is a creative visualisation and re-creation of what happened in 1990 when Saddam Hussein of Iraq attacked a hapless Kuwait.

Most of us might think that Airlift revolves around the actual air evacuation of Indians. But this is no mid-air, action movie. It is intense drama on the ground. It is about the struggles of millionaire businessman Ranjith Katiyal (Akshay Kumar) to help his family and 1,70,000 other Indians in Kuwait to get back to India.

Through a compelling narrative, a well-woven mosaic of visuals and imagery, a sensitive script and punchy dialogues, the movie sets out to be remind us about so many aspects: The inhuman conditions of the Indian labour class slaving in the Gulf to to send some money back home; unemployment so stark that they surrender even what gives them their very identity – their passport; the attitude of the rich Indian diaspora, flourishing, thriving, adopting their new home and ever so quick to criticize their Motherland; the apathy of the Indian bureaucracy; the senselessness and brutality of war; the telling irony that war levels the rich and poor to one class – that of fleeing refugees; and ultimately the fact that it is the Motherland that you will turn to for help and it is the Motherland that will come to your rescue.

The movie is set in 1990. Twenty five years hence, one cannot help but wonder, what of the above has changed today. Producers Nikhil Advani et. al., clearly knew that the myriad stories of the event that began on August 1st 1990 will always resonate, cutting across time and geographies. Because, above all Airlift tells the story of humanity. Of how people go beyond their beliefs, boundaries, limitations and comfort zones, to do good. Of how circumstances push ordinary men and women to discover their extraordinary selves.

Director Raja Krishna Menon puts together an engrossing 2hour 10 minutes. But it stops short of being a great enduring war movie. The opulence of oil rich Kuwait and the Middle Eastern terrain could have been leveraged better with cinematography. The script has some loose elements. The conversation between Ranjith Katiyal and the Indian Diplomat at the Jordan Embassy is flippant and lacks substance. The bureaucratic bottlenecks were glossed over, without a deeper insight into how the machinery works. After big expectations from Nimrat Kaur, it is a somewhat lacking performance.  Inaamulhaq as the self serving and egotistical Iraqi Major Khalaf bin Zayd was amateurish and forced. One couldn't help thinking how Irfan Khan or Nawazuddin Siddiqui would have essayed this role. Akshay Kumar moves effortlessly from the rich, arrogant businessman to a responsible, sensitive citizen. But pain is clearly not Akshay's forte. The shock and suffering of seeing his driver killed before his eyes was a crucial moment in the narrative, one that could have become the turning point in the film. Akshay simply fails to evoke the intensity of pain and it remains just another war incident. Not the fountainhead that it could have been, from where the rest of the emotions would have sprung. 

All said and done, the astonishing facts on which this film is based makes viewing a big experience. It is about 1,70,000 Indians who were safely brought back to India through 486 flights of Air India. To date, it remains the largest human evacuation in history.


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