Airlift

Airlift-poster

Airlift
Release date: January 22, 2015
Directed by: Raja Krishna Menon
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Inaamulhaq, Purab Kohli, Prakash Belawadi, Kumud Mishra

What the entire world and its cousin, i.e. Venus and/or Mars, seem to have forgotten in the annals of history, Raja Krishna Menon attempts to resuscitate after the recent rescue efforts by the Indian government to bring back Indians from the currently war-torn regions of Iraq and Syria. The ‘original’ airlift mission of 1990 is all but faded away, where not a single source on the internet credits Sunny Matthews and a certain Mr Vedi, a man whose first name is not in print anywhere. All the glory for the biggest rescue operation is handed out to the Indian government of that period, and its bureaucrats.

Menon creates a solitary character out of the multiple men that formed the core committee of the entire initiative in Kuwait and names him Ranjit Katiyal (Akshay Kumar), a self-centered businessman who prides himself in being a Kuwaiti and flinches even at Hindi music that his driver happens to play on a car ride just a day before the unexpected Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Then Iraq president, Saddam Hussein’s army of 16 year olds runs wild and sets fire, its guns and penis at everything that is Kuwaiti. People of Indian origin do get a leeway as Hussein considered them as friends.

After witnessing a relatively not-so-barbaric act of war, Katiyal panics and fears for the safety of his family. On his wife’s insistence, he decides to flee to London. He tries to crack a deal with Iraqi Major Khaled (Inaamulhaq) through which he can escape the country. Katiyal, on the way back home, stops over at his office, only to see all of his employees huddled together. He realizes that these people have nowhere to go, and a sudden sense of self-realization sets in him. He decides to use his power and money to guarantee the security of these Indian employees.

He goes to great lengths to keep them protected, but that wouldn’t be enough if they are to stay alive. He tries to establish communication with the apathetic ministry of external affairs back in India. Katiyal goes back and forth between being a messiah and a self-doubting fool of hope, thus offering Akshay Kumar to perform as well as he does. Nimrat Kaur as Amrita finds her feet slowly into the film, shining in moments where her husband is questioned, or questions himself. The soppy and unnecessary romantic track playing in the background looks great as Kaur flashes her smile at her character’s husband, thus displaying the individual strength that she brings to the table.

Prakash Belawadi’s character George Kutty is a small gem in itself. He’s the ever grumbling Malayali middle-aged man who feels entitled all the time and shows his displeasure with anything in an over-the-top fashion. We all know rambling ”uncles” like him, and none of us are quite fond of them. Inaamullhaq, with his Saddam Hussein impression, wears the Iraqi accent like his tailor-made war jacket. He’s charmingly slimy as the money-hungry mid-level army officer. Akshay Kumar feeds off the support characters and restrains his character and even lets his vulnerability flow out in tears. His character indulges in conversational humor, the kind which Kumar must have forgotten exists after years of slapstick tomfoolery.

Kumar ‘airlifts’ his acting career every year with one ‘good’ film and this time he lets the film overpower him. Where his peers are still vehemently coloring their beards and hair to appear younger, Kumar repeatedly lets his age show realistically; making you hope that he sticks to just this way of working and age gracefully by giving up on the silly franchise films he keeps acting in. But again, that’s his prerogative. Airlift has moments of thrill, often scaring you of the consequences. Menon and his cinematographer Priya Seth shoot special scenes just to show how potentially dangerous the young Iraqi soldiers can be, creating a sense of doom in the viewers’ minds every time they appear. The limited, but gruesome depiction of war crimes is the biggest achievement of the film, and in that they create a very strong antagonist.

The bureaucracy red-tape angle plays calmly in parallel where Kumud Mishra as Sanjiv Kohli keeps knocking on the door of his superiors to rescue the Indians in Kuwait. He fights his own small battle and provides for a good subplot within the film.

Airlift is a poignant tale of how a few Indians carried out one of the most successful mass-evacuation and serves as an important reminder of, as a line goes in the film, “Chot lagne par ma-ma hi chillaate hain“.

My rating: **** (4 out of 5)

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  1. February 20th, 2016
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