Director: Ram Madhvani
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Yogendra Tiku, Shekhar Rajviyani
For a director to make a film on a real life incident is in itself a mammoth task. One has to be very careful with all the facts and ensure nothing during the research is overlooked or has a flawed representation. And when the subject is on a brave young girl, Neerja Bhanot, the youngest recipient of Ashok Chakra, the making only gets tougher. She saved 360 lives of the 380 passengers aboard Pam Am Flight, which was hijacked in 1986.
Ram Madhvani’s detailed research on this topic is commendable and he brings out all the sides of her life but keeps himself detached from it. Even the scenes inside the plane don’t seem to be just from a single perspective. Ram has managed to bring out all perspectives to ensure the most accurate portrayal of the brave girl is brought out in front of the audience. The biggest victory is the Pam Am plane, which was entirely reconstructed matching everything to how it originally was. Saiwyn Quadras’s (writer of Marry Kom) dialogues and screenplay is so tight that not once it makes you feel disinterested.
The time when Neerja's journey begins in the film- that fateful day when she(Sonam Kapoor) leaves her home with her good friend Jaipeed (Shekhar Ravjiani) to report to work, you slowly start to know about her. You travel with her, en route to the airport, inside the plane, through her heroism act, all the way till the end. After seeing the different phases of her life, you start looking at her as your own family member and feel the anger when the terrorists behave inhumanly towards her. Her relationship with her mother Rama ( Shabana Azmi) is the backbone of the film which slowly develops into a teary goodbye towards the end of the film. Shabana’s performance is very real and she has immersed herself in the character so seamlessly that even you feel the loss of Neerja, as if someone of your own was shot down.
Throughout the film, when the terrorists take charge, the director keeps you in a seat where you literally feel the fear of the dreadful consequences. It makes you wonder what would you have done if a gun was pointed on your head and you had to make decisions in a quick second. Full marks to cinematographer Mitesh Mirchandani, for bringing out the –closest to the reality-version given the challenges one may face while filming a movie in a plane. Monisha R Baldawa's work on edit is highly impressive keeping the run time close to two hours.
Coming to the heart of this film, Sonam Kapoor, this is her finest performance till date. Sonam effortlessly slips into the role, bringing Neerja to life. You are only looking at Neerja and possibly the closest depiction of her likes, dislikes, and her bond with the family, her pet and her troubled marriage. Rarely do you get to see a performance where you fail to spot the star and witness them become the character.
The director has also included some portions of her problems from her first marriage. But what stands out is the point at which he cuts into her background story, which is in connection with Neerja’s state of mind during the hijack. The phone call between Neerja and her father (Yogendra Tiku) is a life lesson she puts into use while tackling the terrorists. Shekhar’s debut as an actor is impressive and with his innocent looks; he too brings in an important perspective in Neerja’s life.
A story, shamefully not even mentioned in history textbooks, is a must watch. Remember the iconic Rajesh Khanna’s line Pushpa I Hate Tears? You will be visible shaken in the end and the death of a brave child will leave you teary eyed. Why the mention of this superstar? It is because Neerja was a big fan of the actor.
Go watch it. It is the best tribute to India’s daughter Neerja Bhanot, a true hero.
Listen to Neerja Bhanot's last in-flight announcement here.