Cast: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Kumud Mishra, Prakash Belawadi
Director: Raja Krishna Menon
Two things in Airlift will make your jaw drop. First, the story itself — in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he made instant refugees of the approximately 1.7 lakh Indians who lived there. Overnight, homes, businesses and properties evaporated and once-wealthy expatriates were left struggling to survive in a war zone. A few good men took the lead, organised the Indian community and engineered an escape to Amman in Jordan, where the Indian government airlifted them in Air India planes. It was the largest civilian evacuation in history. But somehow it got buried and became a footnote instead of a headline. The second surprise is Akshay Kumar. This, I think, is his finest hour. There is little trace of the superstar swagger. Instead we get a man who is broken and vulnerable.
The character of Ranjit Katyal is a composite of two Indian businessmen in Kuwait who turned saviours when the war broke out. Ranjit is a hero who feels fear and desperation. Even in the action scenes, there is zero posturing. Big props to Akshay for putting his heart and might behind such an unconventional project, and to director Raja Krishna Menon for showcasing a story that had been lost on the sidelines.Kumud Mishra does nicely as a bureaucrat who becomes an unlikely hero. So does Prakash Belawadi, who plays a cantankerous, constantly complaining refugee.
But Airlift never takes full flight because of the screenplay. In fact, the film’s title is misleading because the actual airlift operation barely gets any screen time. Raja brings alive the horror of being a refugee but he doesn’t manage to create a sense of urgency and suspense. The other discordant note is Nimrat Kaur as Ranjit’s posh wife. She’s a terrific actor, but I found her a bit jarring. There’s a war going on but her hair and lipstick stay in place! Airlift is tonally inconsistent but the film is fuelled by a palpable sincerity. If nothing else, see it to see what Akshay Kumar can do. After all these years, he’s proven himself to be a real khiladi.