In 1990, after Saddam Hussain’s Iraq invaded Kuwait, 1,70,000 Indians living there became refugees over night. Living in a country without any law or government, they were torn between a country that they had come to believe as their own and the country that was their but they had forgotten all about it. A businessman named Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar) goes out of his way to facilitate the evacuation of these stranded men out of the war zone. Airlift is a fictional account of an actual story with the director changing the characters and the settings to suit the screenplay. The character of Ranjit Katyal is based on two real life businessmen who are credited in the end credit sequences.
Airlift is a taut and engrossing thriller. The films narrative is rooted in realism and has absolutely no fluff or extravagance that we associate with masala potboilers. The film has no action sequences sans a brief altercation towards the end between Ranjit and the Iraq army. The film maintains a tense and dark mood all the way through with the actors excelling in instilling the fear and anxiety of the situation in the viewers. From the moment, Iraq invades Kuwait, Ranjit is shown falling in one frying pan after the other. The biggest nerve-wrackers are the moments when his family or the ones he cares about are shown in danger. These scenes are handled extremely well.
The film is aided by some great cinematography. The arial shots, though limited convey the overall feel of an invasion while the handheld camera shots achieved with elegance transposes a feeling of claustrophobic tension and anxiety in the scenes where they are used to shoot the indoors or the pathways of Kuwait. The editing is superb. The cinematography is elevated by the manner in which the film is edited. The shots are carefully arranged and given enough time for the viewers to grasp their feel. The drama unfolds fairly well thanks to the pacing of the film and the manner in which it is laid out visually. The background score is superb. I cannot say the same about the songs which I felt hasten the speed of the narrative here and there. There was no room for songs in a film like this but they are there and that is one of the few problems of the film.
Akshay Kumar is always a bankable actor and he is in top form here. Be it his brief cocky self to start with or the heroics that he pulls out for the rest of the screenplay, he looks supremely confident. Nimrat Kaur plays his wife and takes a while to kick in to top gear but when she does, she suits the role well. Inaamulhaq as Major Khalaf bin Zayd is great. His dialogues with Ranjit Katyal are some of the most absorbing scenes of the film. The ever likeable Kumud Mishra plays the man from the Indian side who facilitates the ex-filtration and is immensely enjoyable. Purab Kohli has a smallish role but he does well in what he has to do.
The greatest power of the film lies in the fact that it has a strong under-current of patriotism which keeps getting out to the surface every now and then. The director ensures that the film never for an instance becomes jingoistic and thus the little subtle patriotic and heroic overtures play out extremely well. When the National Flag is unfurled for the first time, a sense of patriotism surges through the atmosphere. On the flip side, the total lack of fluff may be a concern for those are looking for a run of the mills entertainer. This is not that type of a film. The film does take its share of liberties here and there. The biggest sticklers are the songs that are actually sung by Katyal in many sequences which throw the believability of the film out of the window.
The turn of heart of Katyal from a ruthless businessman to a savior of all is also a tad bit too quick for the liking. There are never any reasons or for that matter inspirations shown for the man doing what he did. But I believe that much leverage we have to give the film and the director. A few more re-writes would have sealed off the loose ends perfectly. Overall, Airlift is a good film which can be enjoyed at varied levels. Not looking too hard at the actual events and approaching it as a fictional story would only help matters. The film looks great, has solid performances from the ensemble cast and has a deep sense of patriotism attached to it which is always a great thing for the Indian audiences. Watch it for sure.