Raja Menon Directs Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur in the Airlift – the story of the largest ever human evacuation which took place in 1990 when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces attacked and occupied Kuwait. There has been a lot of excitement in the Bollywood circles about this Saving Private Ryan times 111000 type action adventure movie based on real events and the trailer was slickly cut and promised to be a real chest thumping patriotic pride moment just before the republic day. Alas it is everything but that.
Meet Ranjit Katiyal a cut-throat business man played by Akshay Kumar who seems to be schooled in Joey Tribiani school of Smell-The-Fart-Acting. He is a hotshot Kuwaiti businessman who does not identify as Indian anymore, smoozes with the Emirati of Kuwait undercutting his own partner for business contracts and belly dancing at parties. He is married to Nimrat Kaur who was given a one line directive – Be a Bitch no rhyme or reason just be a rich bitch you are not sure till about half way into the movie whether there is any love amongst the two and if not what is the cause of their apparent distance. At one point Akshay Kumar says “it is not us who are wrong but the circumstances” and you are treated to a sombre background score telling you that you need to feel the love.
One moment Ranjit is belly dancing the night away and the next moment he is woken up at 3 am by someone called Anand who I assume says something on the phone because Akshay Kumar holds the phone for a fair few moments. Then Ranjit is frenetically trying to call all his contacts and no one seems to be answering and bitchy wife is worried as to what possessed his husband at this ungodly hour and Akshay Kumar acts a scene straight out from ACP Pradyumann’s hand book “Why did Anand call me at 3 am” why indeed?
It so happens that Iraqi forces have attacked Kuwait and the complex geo-political Pandora’s box that is the middle east is boiled down to “Iraq is claiming Kuwait is not forgiving Iraqi Debt and it is stealing oil”.
Raja Menon makes a mockery of the story which had so much potential, instead he turns it into this heroic tale of one man’s crusade to save 170000 Indians. Even in doing that the Hero’s transformation is sudden and makes it seem implausible to say the least. Akshay Kumar turns in a wooden and incongruous performance. The liberties that Menon and his writing team take with the stories are too generous and make the Indian government and bureaucracy look inept and insensitive. Sure there may have been lapses but the evacuation mission was already underway using the military planes from Amman to India before the Indian embassy in Kuwait coordinated the evacuation of thousands of Indians in Kuwait as well. But it is not even the fictionalisation of the story which is such a big problem but the careless execution of the said fictional story which is unforgivable. Popcorn Patriotism is the easiest emotion there is to evoke when it comes to Bollywood cinema but Airlift fails even at that. The scene where the Indian Flag goes up at Amman airport also fails to evoke any sense of patriotism I had to try very hard to stifle a snigger at how corny the execution was.
The movie cannot seem to make its mind up about what tone it wants to maintain. For a story as serious as this it seems to rely too much on cheap laughs which are majorly delivered by Inaamulah Haq who plays Iraqi general Major Khalaf Bin Zayd who two years ago was on personal security detail to Ranjit when he visited Baghdad – he loves conversing in Hindi and seems to be channelling Asrani’s Angrezo ke Zamaane ke Jailor. Prakash Belawadi who plays George Kutty who seemingly typifies the annoying Indian uncle who loves to do nothing but play an armchair critic gets an unnecessarily long screen time. Every time he is on the screen you know something obnoxious is going to come out of his mouth, while others in the theatre seemed to find something funny I couldn’t wait for him to actually be blown up by the Iraqi army. Unfortunately he survives and gets to redeem himself by manner of a side hug when boarding the flight to India.
A poorly written script, a terrible screenplay and inept direction are the reasons what brings this movie down. The actors do nothing special to lift the movie to something that could be deemed acceptable. For all the potential that this movie held Airlift unfortunately suffers from mid-air turbulence, crashes and burns.