In Airlift, Akshay Kumar plays Ranjit Katyal, the unsung, unknown hero who masterminded the evacuation of thousands of Indians stranded in Kuwait in August 1990 when Saddam Hussain’s army decided to take over. Akshay delivers a performance that is subtle and skilled. He weaves his way around the crisis, looking for centre to his war-torn conscience-stricken character. When he finds that centre, the actor builds a character who uses his negotiating skills as an entrepreneur to rescue innumerable lives from danger.
Things take a sinister U turn when one night Iraqi president Saddam Hussein decides to invade his oil rich neighbour Kuwait. Over night Ranjit’s life is turned upside down, the very people who would salute him are now gunning for his head. But he isn’t the only one. Over a lakh and a half Indians are stranded in no man’s land when the situation worsens and neither America or India comes ahead for help. The film chronicles the journey from the first day of invasion to the final climax where a timely Airlift by civil aircraft saves many lives. Even though the plot is one dimensional, there are multiple subplots that keep you engaged through the film.
Ranjit Katyal’s self-interest and concern for his family’s safety extends itself outwards to include his staff members and their family — there’s a brilliant conscience-awakening scene at the outset when Ranjit’s faithful driver is gunned down my Saddam’s marauders. Soon, the immediate concerns merge into a larger concern for the safety of all the stranded Indians in Kuwait.
For Ranjit the solution to the crisis is non-negotiable: either the safety of all Indians, or none. The sense of an individual rising to confront a mammoth crisis is placed at a predominant position in the plot. The scriptwriters Suresh Nair, Rahul Nangia, Ritesh Shah and director Menon, have researched Saddam’s invasion well. But they don’t allow the narrative to be bogged down by the politics of history.
Airlift takes a while to make that lift! It somehow drags lazily into the interval before finally making that steep lift in the second. A big reason for this is the forceful addition of songs that aren’t required or necessary to the plot line. Here’s a serious situation of Indians fighting for their life stuck in a no man’s land, and Akshay Kumar breaks into a celebratory Punjabi song pre interval.
Nimrat Kaur as the hero’s wife doesn’t have enough space to take her character very far. She has one important outburst sequence where she ticks off Belawadi for questioning and insulting her husband’s heroism.
Watch Airlift coz it tells a very important story that never got a mention in our history books. And also because the attempt to try out such subjects and story lines is applause worthy.
Rating - 3/5