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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Special 26: Asli Power Kahaani Me Hoti Hai

Special 26 (Chabbis), directed by Neeraj Pandey (of A Wednesday fame), is a special film indeed. It is a pretty simple retelling of an extraordinary act; and it delivers. This film also convincingly proves that given a good script and a director who has a steady head on his shoulders, every actor will try and do justice to their roles to the best of their abilities.

Special 26 (Chabbis)

Special 26 (Chabbis)

Special Chabbis is a heist drama based in 1987 about a quartet of conmen (Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Rajesh Sharma and Kishor Kadam) who raid politicians and businessmen by posing as CBI and Income Tax officers. The very first heist of the film sets the premise; it unravels the players involved and the strategy they usually play with. What comes thereafter is how this quartet manages to tweak that strategy consistently in order to adjust with the changing situations as they are doggedly followed by Inspector Wasim (Manoj Bajpai) of the ‘real’ CBI, Sub-inspector Ranveer Singh (Jimmy Shergill) and Constable Shanti ji (Divya Dutta). The mandatory (?) romantic interludes and song sequences are provided thanks to Akshay’s love interest Priya (Kajal Aggarwal).

The cat-and-mouse game between the chors and the police reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. But unlike that classic which was painstakingly mounted on a lavish platform, Special 26 has to make do with some pretty tacky computer generated backdrops in certain scenes in order to create the India of 1980s. I am happy that the Director and the Cinematographer Bobby Singh (who tragically passed away at the age of 38) at least took some pain in order to ensure that the required cars, costumes and publications fill the screen space.

What am I doing?? Why am I being such a nitpicker? Special 26 was never supposed to be heavy on the production.. It has the story, characters, and sequences to more than make up for any factual discrepancy. Neeraj Pandey got the casting just right. His old favorites Anupam Kher and Jimmy Shergill live up the faith that their director has on them. Anupam Kher specially flourishes as the nervous conman who doesn’t seem to understand the concept of family planning. The supporting cast with the exception of Rajesh Sharma is given ample scope to make an impression. Manoj Bajpai flying high after his tremendous performance in Gangs of Wasseypur, gives a nice restrained performance in a role that demands him to talk fluently with his eyes. Kajal Aggarwal looks really beautiful in her 80s look but is rather wasted in a thankless role; a role that Special 26 could have lived without. The true surprise for me was Akshay Kumar. It is a pleasure to see him in a role where he is not making a fool of himself (neither intentionally nor unintentionally). After Oh My God, this is one more movie where has given an earnest and natural performance.

Overall, Special 26 is definitely worth a watch. The first half may lag because of seemingly repetitive robbery sequences and unnecessary songs, but the second half and specially the climax more than make up for it.

Verdict: 8/10

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