There is no doubting the ambition of the film. A rescue operation of almost 2 lac Indians, set in Kuwait during the Gulf crisis, with almost no Government support. The drama is undeniable, and the setup has you hooked.
As Akshay Kumar’s Ranjit Kattiyal drives through the war ravaged streets of Kuwait, you see young teens in army fatigues, boys who can barely walk straight or hold a gun properly. They are Saddam’s army, looting and murdering like common thieves. The scene is riveting, the production design is excellent, and for those thirty seconds you could be mistaken in thinking that you are watching a Hollywood war film.
This sense of scale becomes the film’s cross to bear, because it is not consistently managed. As the story unfolds, we see how Ranjit assembles the Indian community in a school building as a make shift camp, and then leads them across borders of Iraq and Jordan to safety. Through this journey, you do not see 1,70,000 Indians – it is closer to a few thousands. All of a sudden, the canvas becomes that much smaller, and you feel cheated at the failing of a premise that promised much more. The story could have been just as effective if the group of people was say 5,000, especially if you are not up to the task of showing it as anything more than that in a believable manner.
The narrative also focuses more on the hero rather than the situation. So you see the transformation from a selfish businessman to a concerned father and husband to a hero who fights for the larger good. But in showing this journey, the film spends more time on the person and less on the plot. Detailing of the rescue operation is often skimped over, sometimes rendered inconsistently. How do you explain tens of thousands of Indians safely driving through army patrolled streets, crossing through to Iraq, and entering Jordan? In a motely assortment of cars and buses! The filmmakers don’t, and that’s where the lack of original ideas and creativity become apparent. The film needed more scenes like the one where Ranjit poker facedly lies to the Iraqi general and saves 500 India lives in the process. It also stumbles in managing three different time zones, being chronologically incorrect on certain occasions when Ranjit is talking to the government for help on the operation.
On a positive note, the film – barring horribly intrusive songs – is largely shorn of melodrama. In fact, there is a tone of gentle humor in the writing and dialogue that works beautifully. It subtly underlines the bond between Ranjit and his wife, and is used very effectively in the portrayal of Kumud Mishra’s genteel portrayal of the seemingly listless Government employee who makes the rescue operation possible by his sheer doggedness and goodness of heart. It is well shot, visually consistent, and adheres to the period it was set in without any real flaws.
There isn’t a direct reference to any other Indian film, sure. But comparisons with Argo will be inevitable, and for all director Raja Krishna Menon’s honorable intentions, Airlift falls well short of that small little big film in the areas that matter.
Hindi, Drama, Action, Romance, Color