When I think of Akshay Kumar, I always remember a line he uttered on the inimitable Koffee with Karan a few years ago. When quizzed upon why he was involved in inane comedy after comedy instead of doing ‘quality cinema’ he’d said something to the effect of – ‘A man’s gotta feed his family… these are the kind of roles I’m offered, and therefore these are kind of roles I can do’. And also recall how on that cold Lucknowi winter evening, I’d wondered whether that was true or an excuse to avoid doing anything risky which may affect box office numbers.
With Airlift, Akshay Kumar gets more salaamis from me – which were already pretty high after starring in what I believe was one of the better masala movies of the last few years: Special 26. Make no mistake, Airlift is a fine fine movie based on true incidents(or with a real-life premise depending on what the media will have us believe), but it is Akshay Kumar’s movie. He is there in almost every frame and he does not appear out of place in any of them. His character may be a little inconsistent in his metamorphosis, but it is a minor quibble – more down to the script and direction.
The story in itself is an interesting one, an Indian Argo if you will – however more recent and on a much much larger scale. The first Gulf War breaks out with Iraq invading Kuwait. A nice history recap and a summing up of the geo-political situation in the early part of the movie without any gyaan was nice – especially for a generation of movie goers in India who’ve grown up in their own bubbles (I will never forget having to explaining to a girl while watching Madras Cafe that it was based on true incidents as well). Especially loved the introductory joke on how to fit 30 Iraqi’s into a telephone booth – intelligent humour. Maybe a lot of the audience wouldn’t get it, but shows you’re not taking the rest of them for granted.
Renjit is a big bombastic businessman settled in Kuwait City, who doesn’t really think much of India and is shown to be a not-so-nice-guy (the money-minded sorts from our older movies) through a couple of incidents with his friends and wife. A word for the song ‘Deedee‘ which probably has the most realistic video for any item number ever. Loved the details such as the singer and the band frustrated when our hero begins hijacking the scene and cavorting around, loved how he actually has to get into the song to do all of this and the expressions his pissed-off wife displays while feigning nonchalance. Anyways, back to the story where with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, their world comes crashing down. Renjit suddenly finds himself responsible for not just his family but also his employees, their relatives and pretty much the whole Indian population in a series of reasonably believable sequences. And then starts the battle to actually find their way home.
Without getting into the script in itself, it is refreshing that there are no major logical loopholes. The direction is taut and realistic – I’m sure there would have been many a temptation to throw in a few more songs, add a few more fight scenes and some twists at the end, but the restraint is admirable to stick to one fight (exaggerated but within bounds I’d say) and a couple of songs which again are not completely out of place. The protagonists are also not shown as supermen – sometimes things get resolved on their own, they break down and they do make mistakes. The rich guys stay rich, the poor guys do get angry and not everyone in the Indian government is a lazy ass.
The minor characters are a nice touch and all do their bit – Purab Kohli, George – the guy from Madras Café and Talwar, Nimrat Kaur (who I thought didn’t do her one big dialogue all that well) and the rest as well. The number of refugees seemed a little exaggerated compared to what was shown on screen, with visual aid the enormity of one lakh, seventy thousand refugees could have been conveyed better. The cinematography and realistic art direction – homes from the 1990’s, Government offices in India, the cars, even the glimpses of Baghdad from that age – was a major win for me. Very similar to the perfection I saw and enjoyed in Special 26.
After the disappointment of Wazir, an excellent beginning to 2016. I hope the success of this movie brings about more cinema based upon true-history stories there is a market and a definite need for that. See, Madras Cafe incident above. So if nothing else, here’s to a more aware society. Airlift and the upcoming Neerja on the hijacking case from 1983 can hopefully provide a fillip to that. A solid 4 stars for my couch.