I have been looking forward to ‘Airlift’ more than any other film recently.
First and foremost because of Akshay Kumar. He remains one of our most underrated actors/stars and is the only one (besides Salman Khan) who manages to sell masala movies reminiscent of the Manmohan Desai madness of the seventies even today.
Never mind the classy appeal of the two Khans or the intensity of a Devgan or the raw talent of the new brigade. Give me the absurdity of this man’s fultoo paisa vasool picture after a hard day and I am a happy camper.
But the second reason was even more important for me because every time he moves away from these formula movies with relatively new directors at the helm, it is almost always an even bigger treat.
Remember ‘Baby’, ‘Special 26’ or ‘Oh My God’? What a wonderfully eclectic mix! And they were all uniformly good.
Airlift falls into the second category and on paper it sounded absolutely powerful. The true story of the largest evacuation by air in history, the plight of more than 170,000 Indians stranded in a war torn country coupled with a lethargic government in a pre- Coca Cola era where Rasna was still the drink of choice; one man standing against all odds to help as many as he can.
It had to tug your heart strings and nobody does emotional dramas better than us Indians.
But ten minutes into the movie when the first song came on, I saw my expectations starting to get fuzzy. With a story like this, you don’t need embellishments and you certainly don’t need the hero to break into a song and dance to celebrate good news or his wife make goo goo eyes at him singing how much she loved him in the middle of a war!
They were total facepalm moments, I must confess.
The problem with this movie largely lies with the script and its narrative. A single line story can still make for a fantastic movie if it is written well. But with such a gripping tale, it shouldn’t have been such an effort to emotionally invest in these characters.
But you cannot.
Even the subplots that hold so much promise aren’t given time.
You want to feel for the Kuwaiti woman hiding with this large group. You want to feel for the man who looking for a new bride of less than a month. You want to feel for the man arguing with his daughter to get out and get his money but you are not given the opportunity.
The only character you connect and want to smack is that played by Prakash Belwadi – that of the always-present complainer.
And then there are these questions – how does Nimrat Kaur look so well groomed in the middle of a war (but a couple of really well acted scenes need to be credited to the lady); how did so many vehicles drive out of Kuwait together and not get detected; where did Inaam ul haq, who plays the Iraqi general, pick up his Iraqi accent that sounds suspiciously like a Keralite?
However, it’s not all bad.
There are some really poignant moments in the movie – like a car window splattered with some poor soul’s blood being broken by a desperate crowd looking to steal it or the ringing telephones that go unanswered during a lunch break in a government office even if it is the Ministry of External Affairs.
Among the actors Akshay infuses sincerity into his performance and Nimrat Kaur as his wife strives to make her role rise above its one dimensional writing and finds some success.
But for me Kumud Mishra’s understated performance as a Joint Secretary going from a lazy Babu to a man who genuinely begins to care for his stranded country men and women stood out.
Bollywood please wake up to these actors. Airlift isn’t taut as Argo.
Airlift isn’t even as gripping as Baby because it isn’t the best told story. But it is a story that needs to be seen.
So enjoy those bits that bring a lump to your throat and a surge of pride for a country that did the near impossible.
Leave the rest behind.