‘Airlift’ Movie Review


The largest evacuation carried out by any country of its citizens, 170,000, a world record at that too. This is the heroic story of Sunny Mathews and Vedi….transformed into Ranjit Katyal.


This is not a political thriller. As a matter of fact, from what I know, this was supposed to be a pure documentary, till Akshay Kumar came on board and decided to make it in a docu-drama. So please do not expect an Argo or Baby here, which quite a few people are bound to do due to the setting of the movie.


Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar), a successful and shrewd businessman, who prefers to be known as a Kuwaiti rather than Indian, has his blissful world overturned in a night, when Saddam decided to take a stroll into Kuwait, on 2nd August, 1990. Deserted by his Kuwaiti government friends, left by the local Indian authorities, a twist of fate leads to him feeling responsible for around a 1000 odd Indian refugees (some of them were his employees) who look upto him for a solution, all this whilst he was planning his own escape. This is the story of how he led to an evacuation of 170,000 Indians via Amman in an operation which lasted 59 days.


To put the facts in place, the character of Katyal is based on 2 real life people, Sunny Mathews and Vedi, who actually at a great personal risk and loss, helped in getting those stuck, out of there. But to put it that this was from no help at all from the Indian authorities would also be completely untrue. Whilst the then minister I.K.Gujral did visit the place and faced a crowd of angry Indians, whom in no time he had chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ besides the infamous embrace with the dictator/President, which did earn him a lot of flak in the media then.  There are still quite a few officials from Air India and the Ministry, here summarised in the role of Joint Secretary Sanjeev Kohli (Kumud Mishra), who did contribute to a great extent in the process. Wonder if the scripting / editing would have permitted showing the part that the Air India team actually operated out of a hotel room in Amman during the 59 day process, shown through a montage in the climax.


The film, to the point, doesn’t waste any time in frivolities. It has a story to tell and it tells it ably. One might feel that pre interval there are portions which feel stretched or lengthy but it all adds up to build the catharsis of the situation.


Nimrat Kaur, post Lunchbox and Homeland, as the glamorous Amrita Kaur, is a powerhouse. She is given her moments in the film and she chews the scenes out raw. Terrific performance, no doubt.


Inaamulhaq, (Filmistan), as the Iraqi Major Zayd, is a treat. Adds the right amount of menace and humour which both terrify and humour you. Prakash Belawadi as the always complaining refugee, George Kutty, will leave you exasperated and in splits in each of his scenes. You will always wonder how Akshay is going to react each time confronted by George.


Kumud Mishra gives an excellent performance, especially and makes you feel the pains of his character Kohli, who in the film leads a team without any malice, literally digging his way through bureaucratic system. Purab Kohli gives an okay performance, wonder what was wrong with his hair though.


Akshay owns the film. You feel proud to see actors like him, use their films to do not only something different, but do it in style. His concerted effort in releasing one such film every year since the past 5 years is commendable.  His rendition of Katyal, the alcohol loving party animal, who unabashedly steals the limelight everywhere, be it business or in his social circles, and then to the scared, concerned family man and eventual leader is brilliant. Even brilliant would be an understatement. Awards in India are currently a joke, or else I would have said that this is an award winning performance.


The direction by Raja K. Menon, the writing by him and his team is excellent. With an eye for minute details, such as the suit which Akshay removes for his trip, shown lying on the bed, is what he wears for his meeting on the trip. Beautifully captured visuals by Priya Seth, makes this film shot in Ras Al Khaima and Bhuj, look brilliant. The scenes where you see the entire motorcade travel along the desert, is sure to give you goose bumps.


As I said, it is a docu-drama, so go with that and enjoy quite a few clap-filled moments in the theatres cos there will be many.


RATING:  4/5


By: Yusuf Poonawala