Film Review: 'Airlift'
Opened: 22 January 2016
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Feryna Wazheir, Inaamulhaq, Purab Kohli, Kumud Mishra, Prakash Belawadi
Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Producers: Nikhil Advani, Monisha Adwani, Aruna Bhatia, Madhu G. Bhojwani, Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Vikram Malhotra
After the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein over 111,000 Indians were evacuated from Amman to Mumbai, so it’s surprising that filmmakers took this long to bring this story to celluloid. But, for all the fuss surrounding it, Airlift, however noble it may be in intent, remains at its core just a jingoistic Bollywood film with caricaturish characters played by actors that add little depth or gravitas in portraying people trapped in a dire, life threatening situation.
The year is 1990 and a wealthy albeit selfish Indian expat Ranjit Katyal (Kumar) and his wife (Kaur), live a blissful life in an affluent neighbourhood in Kuwait, an existence that virtually overnight, transcends into chaos and anarchy after the government flees leaving the country’s inhabitants at the mercy of a trigger happy army. Katyal forgoes the chance to flee when he realises just how many innocent civilians lives are at risk, and instead decides to give them refuge in his factory, a good deed, that unsurprisingly, gets out of hand when the rest of the country’s civilians get wind of it. What follows, is his story and how he manages to conduct what is now classified as the biggest civil evacuation in history.
Airlift had the potential to be a landmark film, but its screenplay is so woefully inept, and the film’s production values so unpardonably shoddy, it beggars belief, and one wonders how different the film would have been had it been reigned by a more capable director.
The problem with Airlift is that it suffers from excessive bloatedness and could have easily done away with the hindering songs, that break out in the midst of the most serious, morbid situations. It gets out of hand, when in the film’s penultimate reels, instead of barging straight to the nearest airplane, a handful of civilians, suddenly start walking in slo mo, and grin in glee when they catch a glimpse of an obviously CGI Indian flag, making a complete joke out of the urgency of the situation. It’s this and some of the most staged dramatic sequences, comical villains, and requisite sermons, that never really allow us to take any of the situations too seriously, however horrific they may have been at the time.
Still. There’s a fair bit that’s watchable here. The film’s entire second half is reams ahead of its first, and that’s when it really kicks into gear and gets its act together. Kumar is earnestness personified and eminently likeable in a few sequences, like he always is, and his character graph is entirely believable. Unfortunately, of the cast it’s just him, and to a lesser extent Purab Kohli that deliver the goods, the remaining actors just about pass muster, often wandering in and out of frames with no rhyme or reason.
The biggest misfire here is Kaur, an actress so likeable in films like The Lunchbox, but who is entirely forgettable here. Except for one sequence which she nails, her chemistry with Kumar is woefully flat, and her consistent nagging adds little to a character, that you never really warm to throughout the duration of the film. I think the problem is she can’t really decide whether she wants to be taken seriously as an actress of substance or whether she wants to be a glammed up atypical Bollywood heroine, so she annoyingly flits between the two.
Airlift in the right hands could have been cinematic gold, potentially our version of Schindler’s List or even Argo (heck there are enough nods in here to the two), but despite an interesting premise, and thoroughly gripping source material, the film comes undone because of a few niggles that should have been taken care of when it was conceived. Don't get me wrong. It’s not entirely unwatchable, but for the valiance it was trying to depict, it should have been nothing short of a masterpiece. Two stars with a half star just for Akki, for backing a story that deserved to be told.