Sunday, January 24, 2016

Movie Review: Airlift

The year was 1990. I had just finished 10th, and started high school. India didn't have cable TV, there were no mobile phones. No Coffee Days or Baristas. No Pizza Hut. Life was very simple. Hanging out with friends on the beach. And watching Kung Fu movies on the VCR.

And then, thousands of miles away, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. And all of us in Goa felt the tremors. No, it wasn't just because oil from the Gulf was expected to dry up in our tanks. But it was because thousands of Goans lived and worked in Kuwait and rest of the Gulf, sending money back home to lonely families.

Suddenly, they were refugees in a faraway land, with no where to go.

The Gulf War of 1990 did one more thing. It brought war from the frayed pages of school history books right into our living rooms. Night vision shots of anti-aircraft fire, bombs blowing up the cities, tanks rolling across a landscape strewn with burning oil fields... the world was no longer an innocent place for 15 yr olds like me.

Airlift is the story of the biggest evacuation in the history of the world, when efforts of Indian Kuwaitis like Sunny Matthews, pilots of Air India, Indian Airlines and Indian Air Force, and many nameless, faceless government and embassy officials resulted in the coming home of almost 170,000 stranded Indians from the war torn Gulf. Told through the eyes of a wealthy Indian businessman, Ranjit Katiyal (Akshay Kumar in a measured, restrained and wonderfully executed performance), Airlift brings the horror, the despair, the frustrations, perseverance and ultimately, the victory of a "system" that succeeds in the impossible evacuation of our citizens through almost 500 flights over 2 months.

Raja Menon's taut direction, and Priya Seth's cinematography makes Airlift a compelling experience, with scenes that give you goosebumps, that invoke anger and cynicism, and ultimately, and an immense sense of pride.

Akshay Kumar is ably supported by a wonderful cast. Kumud Mishra is the hassled and frazzled bureaucrat in Delhi, dealing through red tape and processes, pleading with Ministers in a wobbling coalition. Prakash Belawadi is the forever grumbling and complaining George (don't we all know people like that?) who gets on your nerves, while Inaamulhaq in just right as the slimy, corrupt and menacing Iraqi major in charge of Kuwait.

For me, the find of the movie is Nimrat Kaur (and I can't help thinking of Rosamund Pike, another of my favorites, when I look at her). She is the perfect foil to Akshay, a stabilizing and reassuring force in the turbulent times. Angry at him initially for ignoring his family's safety, she soon becomes his pillar of strength. A superb monologue in support of her husband, a dazzling smile that lights up the bleak landscape, and an almost regal wardrobe - this is one girl to watch out for, if she gets the right kind of movies.

Like the shot of the wheels of the first flight taking off, Airlift will lift you and carry through the cynicism and despair our news channels keep dumping on us. Do not miss this one!

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