Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Purab Kohli, Kumud Mishra, Prakash Belawadi
Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Not everyone loves Bollywood. And rightly so. At least some of us need to be cynical, sneering and irritatingly demanding greater things. This lofty lot sees mainstream, commercial Indian cinema as fake, fraudulent, sentimental, stagey, lesser.
I love Bollywood with all its fakery and falsies, even its idiocy dancing and singing in a conveniently bipolar world. And I love it because every once in a while it speaks to me directly, honestly. It figures out my pulse, seems to know what I need and offers me something that restores my faith — in life, in myself, in my world. It’s for those moments, when it tells me the story I need, and tells it like I want my stories told, that I love it so dearly.
For me, personally, Airlift comes at a time when my faith in the basic goodness of India and Indians lies shattered. Like many others, I feel that I have lost my voice.
Writer-director Raja Krishna Menon takes a significant but forgotten episode, an Indian aside in Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and gives it its due place in the milestones of Indian history. Using the Bollywood, desi style of storytelling — complete with melodrama, romance, aurat ki izzat bachao, family, underdog, apathetic state and individual Indians rising to save the day, a template that we like — he brings a true chapter of recent history to life very nicely.
And he tells this story not to make us forget what’s happening around us. Not to pump our chests with national chauvinism. But to remind us that we’ve done things to be proud of. That we are better than this.
There are times when films, especially apolitical Bollywood, can’t just be judged on the quality and craft of its cinema. There are times when it must also be judged on what story it chooses to tell, when and why. This is such a time. So on that count, and more, director Menon and producer Akshay Kumar’s Airlift scores high.
Airrlift, true to facts, is set in Kuwait of August 1990. Through brief, interesting scenes at home and a cliched one at a party, we meet Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar), his wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur), their little daughter and their friends. Through glimpses of the life of a rich and well-connected businessman who lives in a well-kept mansion, owns luxury cars, whose wife has diamonds and a nanny, we piece together Ranjit — he’s an arrogant, chauvinistic, India-bashing NRI. We also sense a stilted marriage.
Almost immediately, Iraq attacks Kuwait. The Kuwaiti royal family has escaped to Saudi Arabia, leaving, among others, 1,70,000 Indians stranded. Airlift, which stars action-loving Akshay, could have gone any way. While it wasn’t likely to take the route of Schindler’s List, I really did fear that it would go the
Die Hard way, a la director Neeraj Pandey’s Baby. Menon’s direction is as good as his writing. Akshay mostly stays in character. Nimrat does act like she’s the film’s heroine but is effective.