[tps_footer]Neerja Bhanot was two days short of her 23rd birthday when she took charge of a Pan Am airlines flight from Mumbai to New York via Karachi and Frankfurt. It was September 1986. By the 23rd birthday she was dead – shot while protecting three children from the gunfire of one of the four hijackers who had overpowered the crew and the flight and kept the plane grounded in Karachi for almost 14 hours.
Writer Saiwyn Quadras and director Ram Madhvani deftly and sharply establish Neerja’s (Sonam Kapoor) world – her relationship with her brothers, mother (Shabana Azmi), father (Yogendra Tiku) and suitor Jaideep (Shekhar Ravjiani), her career as a model and mention of a failed marriage. The screenplay cuts between Neerja readying for her flight and members of a Palestinian terror group preparing to attack the plane when it touches down in Karachi. Their aim is to hijack it to Cypress.
Most of the action unfolds on the set of a large plane where Neerja’s presence of mind in the face of crisis results in the saving of more than 350 passengers on board that ill-fated flight. Moments of her own weakness and fear are captured in the brief quite moments when we see flashbacks of Neerja’s abusive marriage and the encouragement from her parents that motivated always to do the right thing. As she says to one hijacker – like you, I too am just trying to do my duty.
The hijackers are menacing, maniacal and desperate, as they see time and options running out. The scene of the hijacker, played impressively by Jim Sarbh, losing his cool and running amok on the plane captures the frustration of the group superbly. Azmi and Tiku evoke pathos with a quiet and heart-sinking gentleness. Kapoor pulls off playing the young girl with nerves of steel and a heart of gold with a studied air, but she stumbles a little in conveying the myriad emotions that must have run through Neerja during those last few tragic and testing hours. At its core, this is the story of a mother-daughter relationship and the emotional wrench is turned by Rama Bhanot who equally rues the loss of her youngest child and also feels pride and astonishment at Neerja’s unimaginable courage.
A taut thriller with sound, music, camerawork (Mitesh Mirchandani) and editing (Monisha Baldawa) that will get your pulse racing; ‘Neerja’ is a touching and respectful tribute to a real life hero.