After winning awards for his numerous ad films, Ram Madhvani has made his way back to Bollywood with the gripping ‘Neerja’.
It tells the story of the 23-year-old braveheart Neerja Bhanot who died a tragic but heroic death while saving the lives of 359 passengers on board the ill-fated Pan Am 73 flight, which was hijacked in 1986 by Palestinian terrorists in Karachi.
Madhvani, in his previous film ‘Let’s Talk’ (2002) acquainted the world with Boman Irani, but that’s not what he’s going to be remembered for.
He will be remembered as the director that introduced to the world Sonam Kapoor, the actress.
Neerja Bhanot (Sonam Kapoor) is the head purser on Pan Am Airlines Flight 73, a celebrated model and a die-hard Rajesh Khanna fan, which we’re made aware of when she mouths the iconic line from the film ‘Anand’ – “Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin.”
Little did she know, she was describing what was going to be the fate of her life.
The movie begins by giving us a glimpse into Neerja’s ordinary life, introducing us to her parents (Shabana Azmi and Yogendra Tiku) in celebratory mode in their middle class residential complex in suburban Bombay.
The parents dote on their “Laado”, who shares a close bond with her two brothers, and her special someone Jaideep (played by Shekhar Ravjiani)
Mitesh Mirchandani does an incredible job with cinematography, using lots of handheld shots to constantly contrast the two environments – the fun-filled and safe little world of Neerja vs. the grim, dark world of the terrorists.
I loved the constant intercutting between Karachi and Bombay and the play of sound to highlight the stark differences – sounds of children bursting balloons while the terrorists on the other hand, make their bombs.
The film picks up from when Neerja enters the airport after bidding Jaideep goodbye.
Despite the miniscule length of his role, Ravjiani delivers and is extremely convincing as her lover. Who would’ve thought this music-director could act?
Every scene in the film before the hijack only adds the intensity and drama that’s about to unfold. You know the outcome of the film, yet you root dearly for her and hope for a miracle so she escapes uninjured.
As the flight lands in Karachi, it’s hijacked by the terrorists and this is where Neerja’s incredible journey as a fighter begins. Madhvani hasn’t just portrayed Neerja in a unidimensional way.
I love the fact that we get to see her vulnerability when she fears for her life but remembers her father’s teaching “Bahadur bachcha, kaun?” and musters the courage to act against the terrorists.
She hides the passports of the American passengers on the plane so that they are not targeted by the terrorists; she takes care of the unaccompanied minors and opens the emergency exits, which saved the lives of 359 passengers.
During these moments, we’re shown flashbacks of Neerja’s abusive marriage with Naresh (Kavi Shastri) in Doha, Qatar, who berates her for coming to Doha empty handed.
Credit must be given to Monisha R Baldawa’s effortless editing. The precision with which she juxtaposes the memories of her past life with Bhanot’s near death situation in the plane is commendable.
It’s quick, crisp and neat.
Sonam Kapoor shines as the vulnerable yet courageous Neerja Bhanot.
I must admit I was skeptical about her performance in the film given that it rode on her shoulders. With their eerily similar physical appearance, I couldn’t have imagined anybody else playing the character with such ease as Sonam has done here.
A riveting and completely honest performance, this will be etched in Bollywood as one of her finest works.
Shabana Azmi holds the film together in her role as Rama Bhanot. Her powerful monologue in the end is absolutely heart-breaking and will make you weep like a child.
Kudos to Kanika Berry for casting every role to perfection – including those of Neerja’s colleagues and passengers on board. Khalil, the hot-headed terrorist played by Jim Sarbh is outstanding.
Saiwyn Qadras and Sanyukta Shaikh write a gut-wrenching and extremely gripping tale that is bound to melt your heart. Neerja proves that good writing really is key to making a good film.
While the film is brilliantly made, it does come with its fair share of flaws. Madhvani adds a song to the second half of the film, which seems badly placed and makes no difference to the movie.
It’s about time filmmakers got rid of unwanted songs, especially in a film like this. It drags the second half, left me distracted and bored in a couple of scenes but these moments were short-lived, and Madhvani goes back to engaging you with his well executed screenplay.
Overall, Neerja is a film that will tug at the corners of your heart and will leave you moist eyed.
You don’t want to miss this as it truly is one of the best films to have come from Bollywood in recent times.