At the end of each year, audiences have been subjected to a crude and bizarre concoction of preposterous ideas that are formulated in Rohit Shetty's head and somehow, the masses just cannot get enough of it. But silently, as though compensating for such frivolous cinema, there has been one annual film starring Akshay Kumar that has some realism, patriotism, focused storyline and some solid performances. With 'Special 26', 'Holiday', 'Baby' and now with 'Airlift', Akshay Kumar proves his caliber as a hero that one can relate to and not the over-the-top nonsense portrayed in a vast majority of action films these days. Directed by Raja Krishna Menon, Airlift relives the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that threatened 170,000 Indian residents who left their homeland for better opportunities but were then stuck in a land without much of an identity. Now, it is up to one man to let go of his selfish motives and guarantee the security of his fellow countrymen in trying times as the Iraqi forces become more unpredictable.
A brief intro and a song later, we are directly in the middle of the Iraqi forces storming into Kuwait city. While the locals get brutally executed by Saddam's fanatic army, the sub-continent population faces uncertainty and is constantly threatened even though they may not be identified as Kuwaitis. Realizing that his property, assets and family are at stake all of a sudden, businessman Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar) decides to find a refuge for his company's workers while pleading for protection from a fickle Iraqi General. In no time, the office space is crowded with not just his workers but also their friends and family. With supplies running low, he desperately seeks to arrange for food and shelter for a few thousand and soon enough, the bigger refuge area now camps over 150,000 Indians due to Katyal's tireless efforts.
While this arrangement provides some temporary relief, everybody is on the edge because of the anarchy outside their doors. In the absence and negligence of the local government, Katyal reaches out to officials in New Delhi to enable a rescue from the war zone but the bureaucracy and nonchalance from the babus left their fates hanging in the hands of a dangerous regime.
There was but one last hope for Ranjit; to lead them all to Amman, Jordan through an arduous journey and uncertainty of border crossings, while an official in New Delhi sought to mobilize alliances and volunteers to aid a rescue operation.
Airlift contains some pretty powerful moments that depict the trauma and stress during the invasion. The intensity of the first encounter between Iraqi soldiers and Ranjit, the traumatic drive through streets filled with military executing Kuwaitis outside their homes, the erratic behaviour of Iraqi soldiers as they raid the camp and the border crossing through Iraq were effective in portraying the emotional turmoil of the numerous individuals who faced those dangers.
There are light shades of patriotism that don't follow the #nationalism falseness that is rampant in current times. There are moments of heroism defined by one's actions towards a common good, through selfless deeds that make Ranjit's character even more likable.
Akshay Kumar delivers a powerful yet subdued performance, just like he does every year in that one exceptional film. This time however, his acting is much more composed and thoughtful. With a sound understanding of the character and situations, he is able to deliver one of his career best acts. Nimrat Kaur has one stellar scene where she defends her husband's deeds of bravado that get misunderstood by an idiot in their company. The lashing she verbally delivers is far more potent than any other form of rebuttal. Purab Kohli is excellent too in his supporting role as he fights his tragedies in the face of danger that threatens the thousands around him.
Soch na sake is a typical Arijit Singh melody, dil cheez tujhe dedi is ofcourse inspired by Khaled's didi from yesteryears while tu bhoola jise is deeply inspiring with its patriotic theme and is beautifully sung by Amaal Malik and KK.
Raja Krishna Menon has not only achieved box office success for an honest film but also some well deserved acclaim for portraying true events with the right intention of reflecting upon the sacrifices made and hardships faced by thousands of Indians. Ranjit Katyal is a fictionalized version of the true heroes who stood up back then to save several who lost their identities in times of war. He brought them back home in troubled times, thus reflecting a powerful characteristic of human nature and Akshay Kumar, makes it all the more real.
- 9.002 on a scale of 1-10.