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!
The film starts with the following African proverb:
” The Axe forgets but the tree remembers …”
Let me begin by pointing out that I don’t enjoy Bollywood movies much, not because they’re not usually entertaining but because most movies each year pander to the lowest denominator of society. Indian film industry, in my opinion was at it’s prime in the 50s since India just got independent and there was a drive to succeed. The 60s & 70s had most stars ripping off Hollywood (thus getting the infamous Bollywood tag, which I still prefer not to use) and I prefer not to talk about the 90s as a whole. I must also point out here that a renaissance parallel cinema was thriving in tandem with the mainstream which gave us amazing actors like Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah & Om Puri. This balance is what makes the film industry what it is today where you’ll mostly get a lot of masala Salman Khan/Shahrukh Khan blockbusters every year, mostly being sheer dumb entertainment and a Badlapur/Johny Gaddar/Gangs of Wasseypur.
[Spoilers follow] The movie begins with Misha(Yami Gautam) & her son Robin shopping and returning home when they’re abducted in a high octane car chase that involves a bank robbery. The bank robbers: Liak(Siddiqui) & Harman(Pathak) intimidate the mother-son and during the chase sequence kill them. What follows is a character study that was unexpected.
The palette is old but the structure is deliciously unique such that no screen time is wasted on playing the traditional revenge drama of will he or will he not be caught? That question gets answered in the first 30 minutes and the movie takes a 15 year time jump showing us how these characters have evolved. ‘Badlapur’ uniquely showcases how no one is truly good or bad but rather shaped by the circumstances he/she is thrown in. Raghav who is the supposed hero of the movie makes some really questionable moves while Liak who starts out as the absolute villain displays an uncanny humanity.
I would also like to give an honorable mention to Radhika Apte who plays Kanchan, the wife of Harman. Her ability to emote through her eyes and hands is truly gut-wrenching and I expect her to go places.
Overall, I would give Badlapur a solid 8/10. Here is a movie that shows you that a newcomer actor in the hands of a deft writer and a solid all rounded cast can deliver. Watch it for the spectacularly muted performances of Siddiqui & Dhawan and to see that there is more to Bollywood(read the Indian film industry) than the usual song ‘n’ dance routine.
I wrote this article originally on Moviepilot.com here in March last year.