Jingoistic tone aside, Airlift is an engaging watch

Actors Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur at a promotional event for their film Airlift in New Delhi last week– photo: afp  

Airlift (Hindi)

Director: Raja Krishna Menon

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Purab Kohli, Kumud Mishra, Prakash Belawade

For a long time, Hindi cinema was happy with the Indian within India — the hero and heroine living in its villages and cities. Then it started taking them abroad, in films that felt like paid holidays for shooting song sequences. Then Bollywood began focusing on the Indian living abroad, the NRI whose heart and mind resides back in the motherland. Now it has moved a step ahead and we have Indians caught bang in the middle of geo-political crises — from tracking the Taliban in Afghanistan in Kabul Express to being caught in the war-torn Syria in Phantom .

Airlift too is about Indians caught in a conflict zone, only it is based on a real-life incident. It is about the evacuation of 1.7 lakh Indian expatriates stuck in Kuwait after the 1990 Iraq invasion. Believed to be the largest civil evacuation, it was conducted over 59 days.

Director Raja Krishna Menon fashions a taut, engaging feature film out of an incident which would, on paper, appear to be more worthy of a documentary. The narrative begins with the crucial day in Kuwait — August 1, 1990. We get a quick introduction to Ranjit Katyal (Akshay), a character inspired by two individuals in Kuwait who mapped out the evacuation.

He runs a construction business, considers himself a Kuwaiti rather than an Indian, believes in profiteering and is fast turning a stranger to his wife Amrita (Nimrat).

The characters, their relationships, interactions and transformations hold your attention. From confidence to insecurity and vulnerability, from a hardcore businessman to a do-gooder who willingly turns his office into a refugee camp — it doesn’t take a lot of screen time for the shift to happen but Akshay, sporting his salt-n-pepper beard, gives the role all the gravitas needed. Nimrat is her usual easy presence on camera and turns fiery with assurance whenever a scene makes histrionic demands of her. With their relationship dynamic — rediscovering themselves and each other in the crisis — the two make a most interesting on-screen couple. There is a warmth with which the director delineates the lazy, red-tapism of Indian bureaucracy.

There are bits that do come off as far-fetched. The war scenes, with those tanks moving in the desert, look tawdrily done and the Iraqi major, played by Inaamulhaq with a patently fake accent, feels like a caricature of a villain.

Is it easy to shirk off your identity? What is home ultimately? Can you feel secure anywhere else other than in your own country? Valid questions, but ones that come riding on jingoism, all wrapped up in the tricolour. Airlift would have been a better film without this nationalistic bluster but it certainly has a big box office potential with the Republic Day just around the corner.

Namrata Joshi

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 3:09:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/Jingoistic-tone-aside-Airlift-is-an-engaging-watch/article14019428.ece

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