[tps_footer]‘Airlift’ is Director Raja Krishna Menon’s retelling of events during the 1990-91 Gulf War when 170,000 Indians were trapped in Kuwait after an attack by Iraq. ‘Airlift’ recreates the biggest air evacuation of all time and Akshay Kumar plays the fictitious character of businessman Ranjit Katiyal. His experiences and those of a number of characters in the film are based on the real life work and experiences of Sunny Mathews and Vedi who were the unofficial organisers of the Indians needing to return to safety.
The greatest triumph of Airlift is that the storytelling holds back at just the right emotional tipping point from patriotism to jingoism, from drama to melodrama. And contributing greatly to this achievement is Akshay Kumar’s finely nuanced and measured performance as the arrogant millionaire who finds his humanity and selflessness ignited by the plight of these helpless compatriots.
As much as this is Kumar’s most controlled and assured performance till date, the narrative does succumb to commercial distractions like a belly dance song-and-dance number in the early part, and a random celebration at the makeshift refugee camp. There is also a spotlight one some characters e.g. a portly Parsi gentleman and his daughter and a crotchety man called George, but their journeys have no catalytic purpose. The only ancillary character with a complete journey is Ibrahim (Purab Kohli) whose wife is separated from him in the sudden war.
Nimrat Kaur’s portrayal of Amrita Katiyal, whose behaviour veers from shocked at seeing people gunned down in cold blood to cold and disinterested as thousands flood a refugee camp, is incompatible with Kumar’s nuanced interpretation. Her one shining moment is when she firmly berates an incessantly complaining George (Prakash Belawadi, very effective) for not appreciating her husband’s sacrifice and commitment to ensuring the safe passage of the stranded Indians.
But it’s Inaamulhaq’s Iraqi Major, hamming it to the hilt, which grates. These niggles aside, the tension in Kuwait City builds steadily and is offset smartly with the depiction of the lethargy of the Indian bureaucracy captured brilliantly by Kumud Mishra. Airlift is a fine film, and a soaring achievement for both Menon and Kumar.