Airlift, directed and co-written by Raja Krishna Menon, presents the tale (inspired by actual events) of a gritty Kuwait-based Indian businessman named Ranjit Katyal, who against all odds orchestrates the evacuation of Indian citizens stuck in Kuwait during the 1990 Iraq-Kuwait war. Menon developed the script after being inspired by the series of events leading to the evacuation of Indian nationals from Kuwait during Saddam Hussein's siege of Kuwait. Till date, it remains the biggest civil evacuation operation in history--Air India holds the Guinness world record for the most people evacuated by a civil airline. Airlift stars Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Prakash Belawadi, Purab Kohli and Kumud Mishra in major roles.
Little things such as a character's passing remark questioning the selection of a young Sachin Tendulkar in the Indian cricket team greatly add to the movie's period detail.
Airlift is a gripping film that would make every non-resident Indian long for the motherland while filling the hearts of resident Indians with a strong sense of patriotism. Embellished by an extremely rare low-key performance from Akshay Kumar, the film brilliantly chronicles the story of one lakh seventy thousand Indians who got stranded in Kuwait in 1990. Airlift is also the story of the tenacious Indian bureaucrats, Air India pilots and the businessmen in Kuwait who ingeniously maneuvered the nigh impossible rescue mission. The movie brilliantly captures the tensions and emotions of the people involved while simultaneously succeeding in capturing the chaos and mayhem that became associated with the ticking time bomb that Kuwait had become at the time of the siege. Little things such as a character's passing remark questioning the selection of a young Sachin Tendulkar in the Indian cricket team greatly add to the movie's period detail.
With its anti-war motifs, socio-political commentary, swipes at politicians and bureaucracy, and a strong sense of nationalism, Airlift proves to be a lot more than a run-of-the-mill Bollywood production. Akshay Kumar continues to impress with his unique choice of movies--a trend that he started with Special 26 and has continued with films like Baby and Gabbar is Back. Akshay Kumar's nuanced performance in Airlift immensely adds to the movie's realism. It is one of those rare occasions wherein 'Khiladi' Kumar doesn't go for any big theatrical effects and yet succeeds in packing a strong punch. According to reports, Akshay believed so strongly in the script that he decided to share the profits instead of charging fees as remuneration. Akshay gets good support from the rest of the cast. While Nimrat Kaur is solid in the role of a strong headed wife, Prakash Belawadi reminds us of his delightful turn in Madras Cafe. Purab Kohli and Kumud Mishra are also memorable in their small roles.
It is one of those rare occasions wherein 'Khiladi' Kumar doesn't go for any big theatrical effects and yet succeeds in packing a strong punch.
Overall, Airlift serves as a shocking reminder of a dark chapter in modern history. For the uninitiated, it is a great means to get acquainted with the atrocities that the Saddam regime inflicted on the people of Kuwait and how it severely affected the lives of foreign nationals working in the country at the time. The movie is extremely well shot and has a sort of international feel to it. As far as Hindi cinema is concerned, it is quite a welcome sign. Just like all good rescue films, the emotional quotient is rather on the higher side but barring a few overdramatic moments (the sudden transformation of a ruthless businessman into a messianic figure is less than plausible) the element of realism is quite commendable. Airlift is a well-made thriller that has something for everyone. The pacing is brilliant without a single dull moment. All Indians, resident as well as non-resident, ought to check it out.
A version of this review was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges.
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