Airlift is a semi-fictionalized story about an evacuation that took place when Saddam Hussain’s forces invaded Kuwait and overnight 170,000 Indians in Kuwait were trapped in a war zone and had to be evacuated. The film focuses on Ranjit Katiyal(Kumar), who is a well established, well connected , shrewd and self-absorbed businessman who lives in Kuwait with his wife and daughter. It is implied that Ranjit comes from humble beginnings and like every stereotypical NRI portrayed in Bollywood hates being called Indian. He enjoys partying and lives a very luxurious life with his wife and daughter until things change. Kumar is great at portraying swagger and he puts that to good use here.
Things soon take a turn for the worse when Kuwait is attacked by Iraq. What follows is total anarchy and our protagonist and his family stuck right in the middle of it. Kuwaiti citizens are executed in broad daylight and it is in this plight that Ranjit realizes that he is a refugee. The special effects in these shots is phenomenal and you truly believe you’re stuck in a war-zone.
Menon paints every character with many shades. Initially Ranjit, his family and friends are seen enjoying their luxurious and well connected lives in Kuwait to the point of dissociating themselves from India but as the narrative progresses you see how each of these characters evolve. Akshay portrays this evolution with ease and his maturity as an actor is visible here. What stands out here is the vulnerability and mundaneness with which he pulls it off. This is not the high kicking, jumping off a helicopter “Khiladi Kumar” we’re used to seeing, instead, we get a very driven, subdued character which develops at the perfect pace.
Other notable performances in the movie include those of Prakash Belawadi & Purab Kohli. Nimrat Kaur plays the stereotypical wife to the T and disappoints. The most cringeworthy monologue in the second act of the film comes in the form of a cringeworthy monologue delivered by her which doesn’t come across as patriotic, as was originally intended.
The third act of the movie feels very Argo-like and I doubt how much of the dramatization is actually true. Nevertheless it does give you some nail-biting moments and a very satisfying finale.
Overall, Airlift is a riveting movie and proves that Bollywood can deliver style and substance in equal doses. This is a must watch!