Apart from being a landmark chapter in history, the evacuation of Indians from Kuwait during the Iran-Kuwait is a story close to home for director for Raja Menon, as it is for most Keralaites during the early 90s. From researching with limited means to taking a little help from the universe, Raja is finally ready to roll out a film that he believes was long due…
What is your personal connect with the story of Airlift?
A large number of people in the Gulf in the late 80s and early 90s were from Kerala. Every Keralaite, including myself, had someone in the Gulf back then. So when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait, it was like he attacked Kerala. But the news of evacuation was lost because there was too much happening—VP Singh was in power, the Mandal commission was there and it was a charged environment. So years later, when I was reading that 1,70,000 people were airlifted, I thought that this is no joke. Then I started looking for it. According to me, this has been the biggest achievement of the country after India’s independence. You can never question what your country has done for you if they did this. I started seeing this as a film and I couldn’t believe that no one had made it in the past.
Did you then immediately start researching for it?
It came together very organically. In 2003, I met this guy during a commercial shoot. I was discussing the idea of the film with him and he told me that he was there! He was one of the people who flew from Kuwait to Jordon to get on a plane to India. I then realised that one of my wife’s cousins was an airhostess on one of the aircrafts. Slowly things started coming to me. I didn’t have any money to make this film, but this changed two and a half years ago when I narrated the script and everyone got excited.
What was the most challenging part of the research?
That there is very little information available about the incident. In a war-like situation, everyone sees things from their own perspective. So there is no wrong or right view. There are very few articles so I gathered different points of view from different people to try and make sense of it as one story. To do justice to the real incident was the hard part."When Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait, it was like he attacked Kerala," says Raja
Did you have to go to Akshay’s house at 5.30 am for script narrations?
(Smiles) We did 5.30 am sessions for about 25 days. I didn’t want ‘Akshay Kumar’ in the film. I wanted him to become Ranjit Katiyal. When Akshay heard the script, he told me ‘help me become this guy’. Ranjit Katiyal and his personal journey is a figment of my imagination but what he did during that time is all real.
For your forthcoming projects, are you exploring more real life stories?
No biopics for me. I like any story which can be told in a certain way. Most people are excited about stories that impact you emotionally. For me, I like films on relationships. For me it’s the drama of just being alive. In Airlift, you will see the greatest evacuation, but largely you will see the journey of this man.