Nearly three decades after a young woman with a promising modelling and flying career ahead showed utmost courage to deal with armed terrorists and sacrificed her life to save scores of others, the “Neerja” biopic in her name is turning out to be an inspiration for the people, especially today’s youth, who were largely unaware of her exploits, her brother said.
“I have been flooded with phone calls, messages and Facebook posts from across the country and all over the world ever since ‘Neerja’ released. It is quite overwhelming. The film has been really well made and Neerja’s portrayal does full justice to her act of courage,” Aneesh Bhanot, brother of the Pan-Am senior flight purser, told IANS here.
House No. 3727 in Chandigarh’s Sector 46, where Neerja’s brothers, Akhil and Aneesh, reside, is aptly named ‘Neerja Niwas’. A plaque outside the gate also mentions the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award for bravery, given to Neerja Bhanot in 1987 the first woman to be so honoured.
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Braveheart Neerja Bhanot gave up her life two days before she would have turned 23, to save a large group of American children during a terrorist hijack of a Pan-Am flight at Karachi international airport in Pakistan on September 5, 1986.
“People who have seen the film in the United States, Australia and other countries are either calling up or sending messages about her act of courage and how so many of them have been moved after watching the movie. Many survivors of the hijacking have also been in touch,” Aneesh said.
In the United States, people who have gone to see the film have installed electric candles inside movie theatres, Aneesh pointed out.
“By bringing the story back to the youth, the film is doing great service to the community. Many youths didn’t even know her (Neerja’s) story. The film tells them that there is nothing to fear, even as a woman, from terrorists or anyone,” Aneesh said.
The film, which was released on Feb 19, has brought back memories of the Events of September 5-7, 1986, for the Bhanot family.
Aneesh, the younger of the two brothers, quietly booked a ‘first day-first show’ ticket for himself in a city multiplex here so that he could watch the film alone.
“I wanted to go and see this alone. I thought that (director Ram Madhvani) and his team have really done a very good job,” said Aneesh, who was in tears during the film.
His family members went to see the film the same day and he accompanied them.
Actress Sonam Kapoor essays Neerja in the film. Madhvani has said that he was content with Sonam’s performance. Leading fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar has co-produced the film.
Neerja, who was the senior flight purser of Pan-Am 73 (Bombay-Karachi-Frankfurt-New York), was killed in the shootout following the hijack. Palestinian terrorists from the Abu Nidal group had entered the aircraft posing as Pakistani police personnel, carrying arms and hand grenades.
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The hijack left 20 people dead and 150 injured after a bloodbath at the airport. There were around 200 Indian passengers on the flight, of whom 13 died while over 100 were injured.