Much like Ben Affleck's Argo, the newest Akshay Kumar outing Airlift is the celebration of human spirit. It is based on a highly improbable story that just couldn't have been true, had it not been based on a real life event. Though it isn't half as phenomenal as the former, Airlift, nevertheless, is a novel, earnest and compelling attempt at pressing every patriotic button on the remote and jerk out a tear or two this Republic Day.
The herculean task of evacuating 1,70,000 Indians out of war-torn Kuwait during the Gulf War was executed single-handedly by a man named Ranjit Katyal (played by Akshay) in this story. Akshay quits his larger-than-life image to settle for being the messiah of the underdog and manages to lure us with his simplicity. The same cannot be said about the screenplay that despite being rooted in raw, powerful emotions is never half as good as it was touted to be. Gritty in parts and nail-biting surely, Raja Krishna Menon's film is an over simplistic account that never rings true. Though the actors give us enough and more to cheer for, the film manages to engage only in parts.
Ranjit Katyal has a picture-perfect life. He is the richest Indian in Kuwait and he commands great respect and power in the expat circles. He is suave, successful and has a lovely family by his side. But Ranjit's life comes crashing down like a house of cards when Kuwait is annexed by Iraq. His home is plundered, his wife and children go missing for a bit, his men are killed.
The first hour of the film is heartbreaking. The brutalities on display will have your stomach in knots. In years Akshay hasn't brought so much soul to any of his characters as he does to Ranjit. The actor's emotional investment shows as he performs the toughest scenes most flawlessly. In a sequence, when his driver is gunned down by Iraqis - there is fear, anguish, hopelessness on his face at the same time. Only an actor of experience can bring something so raw that effortlessly on screen.
As he self assigns to himself the role of the messiah for fellow Indians, the film's patriotic card comes to play. Ranjit's Indian identity doesn't feature in his life till it becomes his passport to survival. It is strange that the director establishes his sudden deshbhakti in just one line - Jab chot lagti hai toh insan sabse pehle maa maa hi chillata hai. The explanation is hardly convincing but if you play along, Airlift might surprise you.
Ranjit's relationship with his wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur) evolves with each frame and even as a breathless saga unravels parallely, there is an imperfect couple who are looking to create a perfect marriage. From playing a shadow to her man, she steps up to be a bitter critic and loyal aid, through the screenplay. She stands up for him in dire times, even though she doesn't subscribe to his ideology. Nimrat does justice to her underwritten part by bringing out more shades to her character. She nails it and in a certain scene in the refugee camp where she has an outburst, she is top notch. The film's supporting cast deserves a special mention, especially Inaam-ul-Haq and Kumud Mishra, who were both great in their respective roles.
What this movie lacks is the desired tension that you will walk in expecting. It never gives edge-of-your-seat moments that evoke fear. For a film of this order, that isn't an unjustified expectation. In its climax, the film falls limp. It is wrapped up too easy, too soon. An evacuation story needs to have a thrilling climax to go with it, but the real 'airlift' is wrapped up in no time. As Akshay's plane descends in Indian soil, you don't feel that gush of joy. The contrived finale dampens the impact by a large extent.
Airlift is gripping in its first half and shaky in its second. It starts off with gusto but loses momentum halfway through. As you root for the indomitable spirit of those who survived the horrific war, let's take a moment to think why such well-mounted films fail to create the macabre, suspenseful, race-against-time impact. Why settle for being just about okay when you have the makings of being mesmeric!
We rate this film a 62% on the Pinkvilla Movie Meter.