Airlift – Of Human Endeavours and Misplaced Patriotism

Some stories are remembered for the message they convey; some are remembered for the messages they are perceived to convey. Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift, an otherwise fine film with great performances, will go down in history as an Indian patriotic film – which is rather unfair to both; the film as well as the concept of patriotism. airlift

Airlift is the story of how India mounted the largest human evacuation in recorded history when it airlifted around 170,000 Indians from Kuwait in 1990. The only problem is, the actual airlift and India’s contribution to the effort constitute hardly 10 minutes of the film’s runtime. The rest of the 110-odd minutes are dedicated to how a small group of Indian businessmen helped sustain and mobilize thousands of Indians in a war-ravaged country. This reminds me of Gadar – Ek Prem Katha, a jingoistic extravaganza that is still regarded as a patriotic film because Sunny Deol shouted “Hindustan zindabad tha, zindabad hai aur zindabad rahega” and pumped off a bunch of Pakistani soldiers when all that he was actually doing, was just saving his wife and son.

This band of businessmen is headed by Ranjit Katiyal (an imaginary character brought to life by Akshay Kumar in what is probably his best performance to date). He is a ruthless Kuwaiti businessman of Indian origin, who loathes everything Indian for the first 10 minutes of the movie and then has a change of heart when he realizes that so many people are looking up to him as a messiah now that the Saddam has hit the fan. In this effort, he is a supported (initially reluctantly and thereafter vehemently) by his wife, Amrita (played by Nimrat Kaur, who is understatedly fabulous). There is a also a whole host of supporting characters played by fine actors like Kumud Mishra, wildcards like Purab Kohli and theatre artists like Prakash Belawadi (whose character George is so damn irritating that I ended up loathing him more than the funny and puny Iraqi major). Rather unfortunate that Mr. George has more role in the movie than India does.

The story is gripping and very efficiently told. The tension peaks at the right moments. The dialogues are very effective and the frames are very nicely set by Priya Seth. I guess there is a lot of talk going around that Airlift is India’s version of Argo. Well, I haven’t seen Argo but it surely reminded me of Schindler’s List. Like that Spielberg classic, Airlift is also a story of how a few with will can find a way for many to survive – which is wonderful, engaging and definitely worth a watch. But let’s not call it a patriotic film just because it released on a Republic Day weekend. So did Kya Kool Hain Hum 3!

Rating: 8/10 (just pray that you don’t get any surplus KKHH3 crowd in your auditorium.)

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