Director: Raja Krishnan Menon
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur and Purab Kohli
Rating: 4 out of 5
War is never pretty, with civilians being the biggest casualty, and director Raja Krishna Menon puts it across engagingly in Airlift. It’s a tale of 170,000 Indian expatriates caught in the Iraq-Kuwait conflict in 1990 and their struggle to safety.
Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar plays the suave and shrewd business tycoon Ranjit Katiyal. He has everything going for him: a beautiful wife (Nimrat Kaur), a lovely daughter, a palatial mansion, well-connected business associates … the works. But his life changes overnight as Iraqi soldiers go on a rampage, killing Kuwaitis and gunning down all those who oppose them. The first few scenes that show the destruction and brutality of the Iraqi soldiers are persuasive and gritty. The scenes filmed in Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate which was dressed up as the war-torn Kuwait, hit home.
Full marks need to be given to director Raja Krishna Menon and the lead actors for keeping it real. There was no unnecessary melodrama to underline that a war is the greatest leveller and the action moves at a brisk pace in the first half.
Akshay Kumar, who is usually known for his comic and action roles, does a smart job of conveying the fear that grips him. The scene in which he witnesses the gunning down of his Malayali driver and the terror on his face as he fears for the safety of his wife and child is wonderfully acted. When he breaks down, your heart goes out to him.
Another highlight of the film is the realistic way in which his marriage to Amrita Katiyal (Kaur) is depicted. It’s not utopian in nature and they are shown as a wealthy couple with their set of conflicts. It’s a relief to see Bollywood films embrace imperfect couples. The manner in which Kaur scoffs at his sudden urge to be a messiah to thousands of fellow Indian refugees is spot on. It’s out of character for Katiyal and there’s little explanation for his transformation from a mean businessman to a generous, kind-hearted leader of the underdogs. He had a chance to get away with his family, but he chose to stay back and ensure the safety of his countrymen. You may not be entirely convinced, but the film is entertaining enough to make us forget about that.
It may be Kaur’s second film after the delectable romance The Lunchbox, but she’s a scene stealer. Her outburst at the refugee camp as she argues with a snarky old man wailing about his situation is worth applauding. She plays a perfect foil to Kumar. Actor Purab Kohli, barring his fake beard, does a good job as a troubled young man in search of his wife.
While the first half marches along confidently, the second half stands on shaky ground. The evacuation is hastily wrapped up and the film loses a bit of its momentum. Director Menon may have shied away from formula for most parts, but he succumbs to it towards the end.
The scene in which the Indian flag is hoisted in an Indian embassy on foreign soil as misty-eyed Indian refugees look at it in wonder and how Kumar indulges in a fist fight with armed soldiers at the border appears contrived. But those scenes don’t ruin Airlift as you find yourself rooting for the nameless refugees.Airlift is raw, real and well-acted.