It’s August, 1990. Kuwait is hit by Iraq’s invasion helmed by Saddam Hussein. More than 1,70,000 Indians are stuck in the war-zone with no hope left to see their motherland again. Even India as their country merely has any clue or clarity on how to evacuate them all from the Iraqi-invaded Kuwait city. And then rises a Hero!
To disappoint the classic star-driven, formula-forced, clap-causing Bollywood, he is not some Sunny Deol roaring his guts out to intimidate enemies in their own den or just another muscular giant showing-off his well-marketed humanity label to set things right. In fact, Raja Krishna Menon doesn’t even consider it to go explore that territory. AIRLIFT gets lifted up in that very moment. The merit also lies in casting Akshay Kumar who deliberately decides to underplay his unapologetically self-interested image for a while and gives us a character that’s more human than just feeding off someone’s unchallenging starry ego. He’s not new to the flavor though. BABY and SPECIAL 26 have done quite well for him in the past. AIRLIFT is a greater addition to the list.
Ranjit Katyal [Akshay Kumar] is a downright capitalist of Indian-origin all the rage in Kuwait’s political circle. He doesn’t leave a chance to proclaim himself a ‘Kuwaiti’ until Iraq’s unfortunate invasion shatters his power, position and well-established prospects in Kuwait. Before he could sense it, he’s caught in a situation with as much as 1,70,000 more Indians. First to rescue his family, then his people and finally to his countrymen; Ranjit goes every extra mile beyond his caliber, control and concern. AIRLIFT in that sense, is more of a human story than a patriotic political thriller. The patriotism portrayed here is never too pushy, preached or purposefully painted. No matter how millionth of times you have seen a tricolor being hoisted up from soil to sky, you’re tend to feel the ‘get-up-and-go’ force within you but Raja Menon gives it all a reason, more unadulterated and uncontaminated.
The writing makes sure you sink your teeth into the uncontrolled situation of a ticking time bomb in as real atmospheric manner as it could be. Leave a ‘chot lagti hai toh maa hi yaad aati hai’ expression alone, and you will never find an over the top jingoistic dialogues in your way. It is a relief, trust me. Even so, AIRLIFT does bother you more than a couple of times when it falls in its own trap. Inaamulhaq, an accepted capable actor plays an Iraqi Major with a strained accent that can get in your head like most of the caricature-ish villains have succeeded with in past. It is as misfit as Akshay Kumar playing a ‘Bollywood’ hero in a song where he could play any musical instrument he just picked up and sings exactly in the same voice a professional singer has been performing in at the very start. Nimrat Kaur playing Akshay’s not-so-selfless wife takes the stage for an opponent-beating monologue and though it may have been intentional, I wish she had been more ‘less’ into it.
AIRLIFT also carries the first worthy nomination for the year’s best supporting/surprising/underrated performances in Purab Kohli. He’s unbelievably good and the orchestrator in one of the scenes that leaves you with moist eyes and a lump in the throat. Kumud Mishra’s as the sensitive, sympathetic and supportive Indian government official is a spotless performance. Prakash Belawadi as a nagging and way too alert citizen does have some funnily irksome dialogues but I fear, the shoes he’s in are an old pair. Ajay Kumar marks his presence as Akshay’s subordinate.
At the end, AIRLIFT is a nice, well-intended break from loud and fake jingoism in Hindi cinema. It works well as a fine thriller and as a human drama too. Watch out for Akshay’s growing proficiency in playing characters that have less to speak but lots to converse! A story is told in a way it should be. Well, mostly. Do not miss it! [4/5]
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