Neerja – A Review

Ram Madhvani directs Sonam Kapoor in Neerja, a story based on the life of PanAm airlines air hostess Neerja Bhanot who risked her own life to save those of her passengers on the Hijacked flight 73 in 1986. As much as Sonam Kapoor would like to think of herself as a massively bankable star she deludes herself that all her blockbusters have been in spite of her and not because of. To have her headline such an important story seemed too risky an endeavour.

 

We are introduced to Rajesh Khanna loving Neerja as she walks into a boring old building society party with kids and middle aged adults and immediately infuses life into the party. This, her mother played by Shabana Azmi, tells us is quintessentially Neerja; the life of the party; her parents’ pride and joy and loved by kids and adults alike. This version of Sonam is believable and likeable unlike previous roles she has essayed. The family cocoon that is created around Neerja is also very believable, the worrying mother, the playfully quarrelling sibling and an adoring father who still regrets having pushed her into an arranged marriage that ended up being abusive. Once on the flight her effervescent personality seems just as genuine, as she looks after unaccompanied minors and puts them at ease. The ill-fated PanAm flight 73 from Mumbai to Frankfurt makes a scheduled stop at Karachi and is hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, Neerja relays the message that the flight has been hijacked while still on the tarmac to the pilots who following protocol evacuate the cockpit leaving the terrorists grounded. What follows is how Neerja tries to do everything in her power to comfort her passengers in a terrifying situation and how she loses her life while trying to protect them.

It is an incredible story told in the most respectful of ways. There are no histrionics or hyperbolic heroism just small acts of courage which ultimately were responsible for the 359 lives that were eventually saved. This is almost unlike a Bollywood movie and in a stark contrast to Airlift. There were so many moments when in the hands of a lesser director Sonam Kapoor could have had an outburst at the terrorist or said something sassy just because that is what Bollywood creative license allows, but you see the terror in her eyes and she cries like any person thrust in such a situation would and she tries to refer to the terrorists as Sir and appeal to their kindness to allow her to serve her passengers food and water. By juxtaposing flashbacks to her abusive life with the scenes of absolute terror Ram Madhvani has achieved success twofold. Firstly he gives us context to what prompted Neerja to act with the bravado that she did and also by showing us that an abusive relationship is no less than terrorism. One thing that clearly stuck out to me was the first time that Sonam is attacked by the terrorists the nozzle of the gun bangs against her teeth and upper lip and there is an audible sound. Towards the end of the movie you can see on her upper lip a bruised patch – it is small details like this which shows the audience how committed the cast and crew were to try and honestly retell an incredible story.

Sonam Kapoor is a revelation as Neerja Bhanot. She is beautiful no doubt but she is able to carry a sense of frivolity and joyfulness with an absolute ease. While at the same time when faced with a harrowing situation she is suitably terrified yet she manages to find an inner strength to ensure her passengers’ safety. Shabana Azmi is the emotional core of the movie. Azmi is tasked with the most emotionally potent scenes in the movie and yet she delivers them with such finesse that even while her audience is sobbing she manages to smile through tear filled eyes. All credit to dialogue writer Sanyukta Shaikh Chawla that never once does any character deliver a cringe worthy line, even when replaying dialogues from the Rajesh Khanna classic Anand the dialogues land the emotional sucker punch they are intended to. This two women tour de force is ably supported by Yogendra Tikku who plays Neerja’s father, music director Shekhar Ravijani who plays Neerja’s boyfriend Jaideep and the good cop-bad cop terrorists who I unfortunately can’t find names for to give them the credit due.

This almost flawless movie is nearly ruined by the schizophrenic camera work at the beginning of the movie, long before the hijack even happens. It makes no sense and it is headache inducing but few minutes into the movie it seems cinematographer Mitesh Mulchandani finally masters the art of a steady shot and it is smooth sailing from there on. Story writer Saiwyn Qadras and Editor Monisha Baldawa deserve special mention for a perfectly paced script that does not miss a beat throughout and a near perfect cut which has no flab or fluff. There is no jingoism in the name of patriotism, there are no larger than life heroes, just a girl who was doing her job and she did it brilliantly.

I remember the IC814 hijack but only had  anecdotal knowledge of Neerja Bhanot’s story when it was mentioned on news during the Kandahar hijacking but thanks to Ram Madhvani, Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi this is a story I am unlikely to ever forget. What a beautiful and brave soul Neerja was and this story does her memory justice almost 30 years later. The girl who won the highest Indian Galantary award Ashok Chakra, the Tamgha-e-Insaniyat award for incredible human kindness by Pakistan, the flight safety foundation’s Heroism, Special Courage award by DoJ, USA. The Girl who didn’t live Long but Lived it Big. Salute.

 

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Bang Bang – A Review

Siddharth Anand directs Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif in Bang Bang the official remake of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz starrer Knight and Day. Bang Bang also serves as a reminder that two phenomenally beautiful people in stunning locations do not an interesting movie make.

Siddharth Anand director of such cinematic gems as Ta Ra Rum Pum and Salam Namaste proves yet again that he is the master of the art of insipidity. The movie jerk starts with a scene straight out of Karma where Dr Michael Dang is captured and put in a jail cell and a righteous police inspector comes in and lands a tight one on the left cheek. I almost expected Danny Denzogpa to mouth “is thappad ki goonj ki goonj…”

Katrina (who must really have killed off her stylist’s cat for her to hate her so much) plays Harleen Sahani a Bank receptionist who has the ability to take and transfer calls on a retro phone, who sits and types while staring at a screensaver of Santorini and who either talks to herself or to a grandmother who has no sense of personal space. She gets swept away by international criminal Rajveer played by the brand ambassador for Mustard Oil Hrithik Roshan.

Harleen and Rajveer are under attack from goons of Danny and Javed Jaffery and the agents of ISS officers Pawan Malhotra and Vikram Gokhale. Where do I even begin with ISS – they are supposed to be India’s CIA/MI6 and they can’t even issue legitimate looking badges. And Sujoy Ghosh, who scripted Kahaani – in my opinion India’s best thriller, makes the most obvious of blunders. The whole plot and premise of the extradition treaty is willy nilly forgotten and everyone just goes about shooting everyone while Katrina sleeps.

Of the actors there is really no saving grace for any of them. Katrina who usually carries off the ditzy blonde roles off with élan is unbearable and thanks to her stylist is almost unbearable to look at as well except in a few shots in meherbaan. Hrithik with his charm offensive criminal with a heart of gold isn’t half bad but is saddled with a script that has him playing more kanaiya than krrish. Pawan Malhotra tries to pull a Nawazuddin Siddiqui and end s up looking more like ACP pradyuman.  Deepti Naval proves that the bills won’t pay themselves and that even legends like her have to play the grieving mother. Danny Denzogpa and Javed Jaffery play the bad guys from what appears to be a bad parody of every bad guy ever depicted in Bollywood.

Plotholes aside it would have at least been bearable if there was enough adrenaline pumping action to keep one entertained. There is so much talking going on and most of it courtesy Katrina Kaif and her confusion at being caught up in all this mess that I did pray that Hrithik has more of those tranquilizer shots to sedate her. And whatever little action there is is ruined by the overpowering music which can only be described as the illegitimate child of Hans Zimmer’s score for the dark knight and Martin Garrix electronic dance music. Vishal and Shekhar who are able to turn in at least one memorable track per outing seem to struggle massively with an entirely forgettable soundtrack.  The camera work is also shoddy with the action sequences being shot in a way that you don’t see any real action being captured and some of the tracking shots actually lacking in focus which results in hazy pan shots. The big reveal? its actually quite obvious 20 minutes into the movie and you need to be as dimwitted as Harleen to have to sit through the entire movie to be amazed by it. It is trademark Sujoy Ghosh if you know what I mean.

As if it weren’t enough that we are stuck with uninspired writing, directing and acting that we are given the wonderful gift of blatant product placement. I counted 10 – Johnson Tiles, Hokey Pokey, Samsung, Philips, Pizza Hut, Ray Ban, The Q Shop, Volvo, Mountain Dew & Macroman.

The intensity of Bang Bang’s stupidity is only matched by the vigorousness of its insipidity. Stay as far away from this movie as possible and watch any old Tom Cruise movie instead if action is what you crave and don’t mind a bit of plot thrown in for good measure.