It is August, 1990. Kuwait-based Indian businessman Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar) is awoken rudely from slumber by the news that Iraqi forces have attacked the city. It is the sort of awakening that shakes loose Katyal from his cocooned wealthy life, which he shares with his wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur) and young daughter, forcing him to deal with a series of dangerous situations, and leading to the evacuation of more than a lakh Indians stuck between Saddam Hussain’s brutal forces and an alarmingly slow-to-take-heed Indian state.
The film is based on the real-life conflict and bloodshed that took place twenty five years back in Kuwait, and the way it is done—with a sense of urgency and immediacy, bringing alive a city over-run and under siege—sends out a crucial message to star-driven-yet-drivel-producing Bollywood. That given the backing of an A-list star, anything is possible: well done, Akshay Kumar, for donning the producer-with-conviction hat to create a crackling film.
And another pat for the performance. Katyal is made believable because Akshay junks faux heroics for an unshowy heroism, which comes from a place of initial reluctance, seguing into a slow acceptance of the situation, and the gradual taking charge because there is no one else that can do the job. And brings his star power to lift the film, in much the same way Ben Affleck buoyed the Hollywood evacuation tale, ‘Argo’.
This is a deftly done film, which does slide a little in the second half, but never abandons its mission: to tell a tale. Akshay Kumar leads from the front, but shares space when it is needed: Nimrat Kaur, in her second Hindi film after ‘The Lunchbox’, keeps pace with her co-star ; Inaamulhaq (so enjoyable in ‘Filmistaan’), as Saddam’s man-in-Kuwait, is suitably menacing, Belawadi as the annoying refugee really does make you want to slap him, Kohli is kohl-eyed and restrained and makes us feel for him, Mishra as the Dilli babu, disinterested at first, then taking charge, fits right in.
Bollywood doesn’t do well with basing its films on real-life events because it mostly has no idea how to straddle the line between fact and fiction, which is so crucial to the genre. It overdoes things, and turns them into melodrama and schmaltz. ‘Airlift’ plays it right, and gives us drama, even if things slow down and turn a trifle repetitious post interval.
But overall, ‘Airlift’ is a good film, solidly plotted, well executed and well-acted. Just lose the songs, and the occasional underlined background music the next time, okay?
Star cast of Airlift: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Inaamulhaq, Prakash Belawadi, Kumud Mishra, Purab Kohli, Feryna Wazheir
Director : Raja Krishna Menon
Three and a half stars
Also read: Kya Kool Hain Hum 3 movie review, zero stars
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