T-Series Films, Cape Of Good Films, Emmay Entertainment and Abundantia Entertainment’s Airlift (UA) is based on a true-life episode when an extraordinary Indian, living in Kuwait, worked selflessly to rescue 1,70,000 Indians stranded there following invasion by Iraq in 1990.
Ranjeet Katiyal (Akshay Kumar) is a filthy rich Indian living in Kuwait. He is a ruthless businessman whose company employs thousands of Indians. He lives with his wife, Amrita (Nimrat Kaur), and little daughter (baby Adiba Hussain). He doesn’t have much feeling for India.
Life is hunky dory till one day, suddenly, Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussain, declares war on Kuwait and sends his armymen to wreak havoc on Kuwait and its nationals. The armymen go on a rampage, killing innocent Kuwaitis. In the process, several Indians are also murdered by them. Among those mercilessly killed is Ranjeet Katiyal’s faithful Indian driver, Nair. Ranjeet decides to escape with his wife and little daughter as also with the widow and child of his driver. But he has a change of heart when he sees helplessness writ large on the faces of his employees. Rather than making an attempt to flee Kuwait, he takes it upon him self to ensure the evacuation of not just his Indian employees and their families but of all the 1,70,000 Indians stranded in Kuwait. While the Kuwaiti government has run away, the Indian government couldn’t care less for its countrymen in Kuwait as it neither has the time nor the inclination to ensure their safety.
Ranjeet first gets all the Indians together in a huge school building in Kuwait and arranges for their food and stay there. The Iraqi major (Inam-ul-haq) in Kuwait issues veiled threats to Ranjeet but is also aware of Saddam Hussain’s diktat to not harm Indians as India had friendly relations with Iraq. Still, the Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait often kill Indians too. Ranjeet tries his level best to get help from India but except for one officer in the external affairs ministry, Sanjeev Kohli (Kumud Mishra), there isn’t anybody else really willing to help. Even Sanjeev Kohli finds himself quite helpless because the external affairs minister (Surendra Pal) doesn’t have the inclination to look into the matter.
Hopes are raised when news comes that Tipu Sultan, a ship from India, would soon be entering Kuwaiti waters and could be used by the stranded Indians to escape on its return journey from Kuwait to India. However, the ship’s journey is cut short before it reaches Kuwait. Anyway, Ranjeet somehow manages to secure the safe passage of 500 persons in a ship sailing from Kuwait, loaded with junk. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg – because 500 is indeed a small number in relation to 1,70,000 Indians who are stranded.
Escaping to Jordan is now the only option for the Indians but getting clearance from India for the same is a Herculean task. While Sanjeev Kohli in Delhi is still trying to get permission from Jordan, Ranjeet Katiyal sets out for Jordan with the nearly 1,70,000 Indians as he senses, it would be difficult to survive any longer in Kuwait. Sanjeev Kohli now enlists the support of Air India to press its civilian pilots into service to fly planes to Kuwait and airlift the Indians. At first reluctant, the pilots soon relent. And then begins the biggest rescue operation in world history.
The story, written by Raja Krishna Menon, is interesting and inherently patriotic because it talks about an Indian’s quest to save the lives of other Indians, many of who are not even known to him, the common thread tying them being their helplessness in strife-torn Kuwait. The screenplay, written by Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair, Rahul Nangia and Raja Krishna Menon, does not exploit the story as well as it could have been exploited. Firstly, the pre-interval portion is more like a docu-drama but if the audience still doesn’t mind that, it is because it is, at core, a human drama and one which is not known to many. Secondly, the edge-of-the-seat excitement and thrill expected out of the story is more or less missing before interval. But there are some heart-touching moments post-interval which make the audience cry and also evoke patriotic feelings in them, which do make up for the lack of adrenaline-rushing thrill. The scene in which the Indian flag is put up at the Jordan airport is one which would swell the audience’s hearts and evoke claps. The scene in which the irritating Indian, George (Prakash Belawadi), hugs Ranjeet Katiyal, after repeatedly taunting him everyday, is also heart-warming and emotional. The first Air India plane taking off from Jordan with a batch of Indian passengers aboard, affords thrill to the viewers and is another emotional scene.
The screenplay could’ve had some more clap-trap moments. In other words, the enormity of the task before Ranjeet Katiyal does not come across as it should’ve. However, this is not to say that the screenplay is weak. No, it isn’t! But it could’ve been a bit more exciting for sure. The engaging second half does involve the viewers and manages to satisfy them for the sheer planning and execution of the enormous rescue operation, that too, with minimal resources on hand. Dialogues, written by Ritesh Shah, are very good and even clap-worthy at places but they lack punch at other places.
Akshay Kumar approaches the role of Ranjeet Katiyal with sincerity and understanding and performs very ably, making the drama appear real. Nimrat Kaur plays his wife ably. She has a lovely voice which she uses to her ad vantage. Kumud Mishra underplays beautifully and leaves a mark as Sanjeev Kohli. Prakash Belawadi is extraordinary in the role of George. In fact, his acting is so natural that the viewer feels like slapping him everytime he opens his mouth. Inam-ul-haq is entertaining as the Iraqi major. Purab Kohli makes his presence felt as the Muslim Indian in Kuwait. Feryna Wazheir evokes sympathy as the Kuwaiti girl in distress, with a little baby in her arms. Nissar Khan (as Ranjeet’s friend, Ashok), Ninaad Kamat (as Ranjeet’s friend, Kurien) and Ajay Kumar (as Joseph) lend able support. Lena Kumar is lovely as George’s wife. Kaizad Kotwal (as Poonawala) and Gunjan Malhotra (as Poonawala’s daughter, Meher) leave their marks. Avtar Gill is good in a brief role. Arun Bali (as Bauji) and Surendra Pal (as the external affairs minister) are effective. Ajay Arya (as Nair), Taranjeet Kaur (as Nair’s wife), Pooja Nair (as Preethi), Pawan Chopra (as Indian ambassador Brij), baby Adiba Hussain (as Ranjeet and Amrita’s daughter, Simran), Bachan Pachera (as the old Indian), Sanjay Bhatia (as the official at the Indian Embassy in Amman), Rajesh Jais (as the officer at the Indian Embassy in Iraq), Abhijit Bhor (as the captain of the ship loaded with junk) and the others provide the necessary support.
Raja Krishna Menon’s direction is good. He has narrated the human-interest drama in a way that the audience’s quest to know what and how doesn’t wane. Amaal Malik and Ankit Tiwari’s music is alright but the songs could’ve been more appealing. Kumaar’s lyrics are appropriate. Ahmed Khan and Arvind Thakur’s choreography is okay. Priya Seth’s camerawork is splendid. Manohar Verma’s action scenes are very real. Mustufa Stationwala’s production designing is of a good standard. Hemanti Sarkar’s editing is sharp.
On the whole, Airlift is an entertaining film which will be liked by the classes and family audiences. That it tackles a subject not many are aware of is a major plus point because that keeps the audience’s interest alive from the start till the end. It has emotional and patriotic value and will, therefore, prove to be a plus fare for its producers and a safe bet/earning proposal for its various distributors.