Given the recent track record of Bollywood movies of lazy potboilers and expensive misfires, finally a Hindi movie has arrived that is exactly right in every way. Save for the ideation following a familiar Oscar-winning story, in every other aspect Airlift sits first class.
The location is Kuwait, just before the invasion by Iraq in 1990. While the best one could hope in recent times is something possibly by Kabir Khan that cleverly balances authenticity and ‘filminess’, Airlift flies supersonic. The title screen of the movie appears without any fanfare, not even with the obvious choice of an aircraft taking off as background music. No. It quietly appears and swiftly vanishes. That, followed by a panoramic shot zooming into the city of Kuwait under muted sunlight typical of the area, sets a very solemn tone at the onset of the movie.
We are introduced to Ranjit (Akshay Kumar), the owner of a construction company, clearly established as a man of affluence, who shakes hands with people at the very top in the region. Ranjit is an unfeeling businessman, manipulative yet diplomatic. He has neither empathy nor concern for the lives of others below him, especially his Indian driver Nair. The reason is that having spent a considerable amount of time in Kuwait, he identifies himself as Kuwaiti and shuns everything linking him with India – including his driver and the Bollywood songs the driver plays in his car.
He shares a complicated relationship with his wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur), often quarrelling but not unloving. And then Saddam Hussein abruptly invades Kuwait. It is at this juncture that the movie takes off.
What you then get is one of the most well-researched and realistic depictions of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. It is hard-hitting and poignant, making the best use of the cinematic medium to evoke the intended emotions. It’s not complete until we get into the eye of the storm, seeing it from Ranjit’s point of view. And then you get it. Innocent Indians are trapped in a war zone and you truly sense the urgency of evacuating them from there safe and sound. And it’s no mean feat since around 1,70,000 Indians are stuck in Kuwait. This is the true story this movie is based on.
Airlift gets it exactly right in every single department. The casting, the makeup, the costumes, even the accents are spot on. Absolutely all the actors, regardless of length of role, are pitch perfect.
You knew Akshay Kumar had it in him to play Ranjit, having seen Baby and Holiday. In Airlift, he delivers an inspired performance that outshines all of his previous roles. Nimrat Kaur impresses even more. She comfortably fits into the shoes of Amrita and conveys every emotion, such that there is no room for a better actress to take her place.
A special mention to the art direction as well – the impressive detailing of both Kuwait and India of 1990 shall easily transport you to that time.
The script makes all the right moves. Ranjit is a character of flesh and blood, a man of power suddenly thrust into chaos and anonymity, figuring his way out of the mess. His wife isn’t nagging, nor is she a damsel in distress – she’s a sensible and commanding woman. The other characters have rock solid background stories of their own, collectively making a connection with the entirety of the audience.
Knowing the history of the invasion, there could have been no better way to pull off the twist at the interval – it is genius dramatization of real life events.
Notwithstanding the ‘item song’ merely 10 minutes into the movie, Airlift is a conscientious effort by every single person involved in making it to showcase an important event in the history of India. Needless to say, as the movie lands, Ranjit rediscovers love for his country, but get ready to feel some serious goosebumps yourself as the Indian flag is raised on screen in slow motion. There’s a reason this movie released right before the long Republic Day weekend. I came out of the hall thinking, I’ve quite possibly just watched THE best Hindi movie of the year because no other movie after this might be able to fly as high as Airlift.