True Review Movie - Neerjaby Niharika Puri February 21 2016, 1:41 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 47 secs
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Shekhar Ravjiani
Direction: Ram Madhvani
Produced: Atul Kasbekar, Shanti Sivaram Maini, Bling Unplugged, Fox Star Studios
Written: Saiwyn Quadras, Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh
Duration: 162 Mins
Neerja Bhanot, the youngest Ashok Chakra winner still deservedly receives posthumous prominence in Chandigarh's local papers. In this reviewer's hometown, she is a story spoken about in awe yet regret at a young life lost two days shy of her 23rd birthday on 5th September, 1986
The biopic goes out of its way to establish the reel Neerja Bhanot (Sonam Kapoor) as a Rajesh Khanna fan who spouts his most iconic lines from Amar Prem and Anand, spreading cheer wherever she goes. There are instances of unsubtle foreshadowing regarding her end, when Neerja quotes Anand with "Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi!" to an aged taxi driver who had just blessed her with old age. One of her brothers taunts her need to read a magazine, saying that she won't die if she waits until after her flight back. Her mother (Shabana Azmi) is engulfed with a feeling of dread when her daughter leaves for her Pan Am flight 73 (Mumbai-USA) without her ring, which had been crafted specifically for her safety.
There is the smallest romantic interlude of her and Jaideep (composer Shekhar Ravjiani making a great debut) before she boards the plane and the hostile takeover begins at the Karachi airport by Palestinian members of the Abu Nidal Organisation. Call it an act of cowardice or practical protocol, the three pilots abandon the aircraft on Neerja's timely warning, leaving the plane all fueled and nowhere to go. The terrorists have a ticking clock and one among them - Khalil (Jim Sarbh, truly memorable) - has the volatility of a timebomb.
The Pakistani government is trying to negotiate a safe exit for the passengers. Inside the plane, Neerja is fighting for their lives. Out of 379 passengers in the hijacked flight, 359 lived to tell the tale. Neerja was in the casualty count.
Ram Madhvani takes us to the heart of the terrifying hostage drama. Cameraman Mitesh Mirchandani puts us in tight corners and tighter close-ups with the terrified passengers and cabin crew. The unsteady camera uncertainty in a static plane adds to the immersive, edge-of-the-seat viewing. A particular sequence, intercutting a particularly traumatic flashback in Neerja's life with the horror of her current situation is excellently edited.
The film does almost everything right as a taut, biographical thriller. It even extracts a muted, earnest performance from Sonam Kapoor, even if she is still more the divaesque charmer than the flight purser. Not in one scene is her hair dishevelled, the make-up smudged or uniform effectively sweaty or rumpled, hours into the ordeal. For a film as gritty and precise in the build-up of dread, these details take away from the complete believability and sympathy of the character. Yet, the subject matter is strong enough to have many let it go unnoticed.
Powerful, stirring and inspiring, Neerja is a recommended watch this weekend. It is a tribute to the indomitable spirit. Neerja's sacrifice saved so many lives. One of the children she shielded from the hail of bullets went on to become a pilot, considering each day of his life her gift. It is stories like this that are compelling, more so under able direction. Do not miss.