‘Runway 34’ movie review: Take this choppy ride only if you trust Ajay Devgn 

The film manages to keep the narrative floating as long as the aircraft is faced with inclement weather, but when the scene shifts to the bright courtroom, it loses sight of the objective and indulges in hero-worship

April 29, 2022 08:10 pm | Updated 08:10 pm IST

A still from ‘Runway 34’

A still from ‘Runway 34’

Usually, films are made about accidents that shook people, or depict tragedies that were averted at the last minute because of the heroics of the protagonist. Here, actor-director-producer Ajay Devgn has mounted a thriller based on a real-life aviation incident where the tragedy is averted by the intermission, but the saviour faces the charge of being careless and not following the laid-down procedure.

It might read well as a newspaper article but as a cinematic narrative, the idea doesn’t soar because it only pretends to be a tense procedural with a big reveal ensconced between the layers.

Like the protagonist Captain Vikram Khanna (Devgn), the pilot of the said Dubai-Kochi flight, director Devgn doesn’t follow the standard operating procedure and comes up with a film that excites and infuriates in turns, and by the end, leaves one unsatiated in this unusually-hot April.

The production design is impressive, the special effects are not bad and the background sound is ominous. The turbulence in the air does give us a sinking feeling as well, but after intermission, as the action shifts to a civil aviation court of inquiry, things go downhill.

Writers Sandeep Kewlani and Aamil Keeyan Khan manage to keep the narrative floating as long as the aircraft is faced with inclement weather, but when the scene shifts to the bright courtroom, they lose sight of the objective and indulge in hero-worship.

We get it that those who appear brash and nonchalant and indulge in what many call social vices are not necessarily slapdash towards their duty. But we also don’t get any insight into the mind and heart of Vikram, or the way he is. The only detail we get is that Vikram is blessed with a photographic memory and that Devgn is playing him. Period. Perhaps, the makers switched off Denzel Washington’s Flight (2012) in between and decided to charter their own path. 

Like the surrogate advertisement that Devgn does for a pan masala brand, the writers have written a surrogate script for the actor to create a meta-narrative around his point of view. Why is it that a pilot is always held responsible, asks Vikram? Not the people working at ATC Tower or those who run the airline company. In between, there are politically-incorrect lines like how these days, people hide their inefficiency by invoking the name of the army.

Beyond the action in the air, it is essentially a battle between a rule-breaker and a rule enforcer, played by Amitabh Bachchan. As a no-nonsense attorney/aviation expert, Narayan Vedant, Bachchan comes across as a loud caricature of solid parts he has played in the past. Narayan speaks in chaste Hindi which reminds us of the master of the gurukul in Mohabatein. Here, it is ironic as Narayan has to explain his words to the people around him in English, and inadvertently answers the recent tweet controversy involving Devgn.

Using the IPL terminology, the match-up between Devgn and Bachchan doesn’t really set the screen on fire. Devgn is much more convincing than his senior co-actor, hamstrung by poor writing.

However, it is good to see Devgn, the actor, showing purpose. After Rudra and Gangubai Kathiawadi, Devgn once again owns every frame that he is part of, and it is hard not to get convinced by Vikram’s story, despite his obvious intransigence and limited details on his personal life and mental framework. In fact, he is the reason that one doesn’t mind the gaps in the script for a while.

But there are too many loose ends and unanswered questions that the makers expect us to overlook, just because we have fallen in love with Devgn’s dashing walk, smart shades, and those intrusive eyes beneath them all over again.

In the name of persuasive performance, we get to see a lot of posturing from supporting actors that eventually don’t add anything substantial to the narrative.

Rakul Preet Singh has been saddled with a thankless role as the first officer in the cockpit with Vikram. In the face of adversity, she and other female crew-members get to cry, while Vikram develops only beads of sweat on the temple. Oh! The hero can’t lose control.

Even a trusted performer like Boman Irani seems like he is scratching the surface of a cardboard character; it does seem like director Devgn has missed out on the improvement in acting standards of commercial cinema in the last two years.

Overall, the film is like the long, unlit cigarette that Devgn dangles between his lips throughout the film. It looks smart but never really catches the spark.

Runway 34 is currently running in theatres

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