RUNWAY 34 (2022)

  • Release Date: 29/04/2022
  • Cast: Ajay Devgn, Amitabh Bachchan, Rakul Preet Singh, Boman Irani
  • Director: Ajay Devgn

Thrilling, entertaining, and often affecting! This well-made Devgn – Bachchan showdown offers intrigue and drama

— Ambar Chatterjee

Runway 34 chronicles the journey of Captain Vikrant (Ajay Devgn), a flying prodigy who is just as famous for his exceptional flying skills as he is infamous for his disregard for rules and conforming to set instructions. On one of his flights back from Dubai, he faces extreme weather conditions that make it impossible for him to land at the slated airport. Running on an empty fuel tank and with no other way out of the predicament, Vikrant does the unthinkable. Following this, Vikrant is summoned by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) who hold him responsible for the decisions that he took on the fateful flight and the results of those decisions that come back to haunt him. Was Vikrant a hero for doing what he did or was he just another cocky and self-obsessed man who followed his gut feelings and risked the lives of 150 passengers for his false vanity and misplaced trust in his own skills and abilities? This is what is left for Narayan Vedant (Amitabh Bachchan) of AAIB to decipher.

The first half of the film is all about the fateful flight, the predicament faced by the pilots, and whether or not he can save the passengers onboard. Devgn spends considerable time building the character of Vikrant. He also documents Vikrant’s behaviour with his superiors and colleagues before the flight thereby drawing the audience’s attention to the nature of the man, something that would be utilized later. Once the flight begins and things start going out of control, the film turns thrilling. One has to applaud the VFX and sound design teams for absolutely nailing the portions where we see Vikrant trying to land the flight in two different airports. The VFX and the sound design were so on point that I was completely immersed in what was unfolding on screen.

Once the basic requirement to make the first half-successful was met, the rest depended on the acting guiles of Ajay Devgn and up to a certain extent on the acting abilities of Rakul Preet Singh and the others to ensure that the first half was realistic and engrossing. Ajay Devgn is an ever-dependable actor and in roles like this, his persona comes into play and elevates his inherent acting skills and abilities to convey a sense of fear, thrill, and ultimately the release of the tension at the end of the emotional payoff. Thus, the first half of the film went by like a tracer bullet. I didn’t even notice the passage of an entire hour as I was so engrossed in what was unfolding on the screen. There are a few generic tropes that are repeated in terms of the different passengers shown doing things and mouthing dialogues that are all too well known to us from similar Bollywood films. Ajay Devgn, the director also uses this half to give the audience some interesting misdirection that are used later to make the climax interesting. I was thinking in the same line as what I saw in a film like Flight (Denzel Washington, 2012) and felt that this film was inspired by it and would take the same course. While certain inspirations from Flight were evident, Runway 34 takes a whole new route in its storytelling and character development. I absolutely loved this aspect of the film as it subverted my expectations in the best possible way.

The second half of the film is a sombre courtroom drama wherein we witness Ajay Devgn go up against the theatrical might of the great Amitabh Bachchan. Devgn, the director knew that there was no way in the world that he could humanize the persona of Amitabh Bachchan and bridle it within the confines of the character of Narayan Vedant. He also knew that he couldn’t match up to the charisma of Mr. Bachchan by being Vikrant. Thus, he let Mr. Bachchan be Mr. Bachchan, the “angry old man” and he took his Devgn-ism to the next level unleashing his own brand of fiery delivery and renditioned his character with a no holds barred attitude. The result is a thrilling encounter between the men that keep the proceedings of the second half equally breezy, interesting, and cerebral.  

The fact that the first half of the film was designed to make us care for the character of Vikrant helps the film’s cause in the second half when Narayan Vedant goes all out against him and is looking to crucify him for good. I could feel a sense of frustration creeping through my psyche at the entire inquiry proceedings and was growing increasingly jilted at Narayan Vedant’s line of inquiry that in many ways was aimed at only demonizing Vikrant. Vedant never for a second cared to judge and bring to the notice of the inquiry the failures of some of the others involved in the mishap even though he knew about it. This consistently frustrated me and made the proceedings interesting to see if Vikrant was able to prove his innocence in the end. Suffice is to say that when a film is able to make you think so much within the course of its runtime, it has already succeeded at a certain level.

Amitabh Bachchan breathes fire as Narayan Vedant, and he is scarier than the natural calamity that the flight and Vikrant are shown going up against in the first half. He uses every trick in the book to destroy Vikrant and he does so because he is convinced that Vikrant is cocky and did what he did out of sheer negligence. The scene where he is shown grilling Rakul Preet Singh was terrifying and the way he extracted some damning evidence out of her was equally impactful to watch. The faceoff with Ajay Devgn was stupendous and is one of the high points of the film. How the inquiry culminates makes the character of Narayan Vedant even more appreciable. Putting all this together, Amitabh Bachchan is electric in a short, meaningful, and superbly rendered character. This is one of his best acts in recent times.

Boman Irani is a crowd pleaser and even in a negligible character like the one he has here, he grabbed my attention. It is hard to say if he is good or bad in the film, but he is superbly entertaining to watch. I loved how he dismissingly addressed, Rakul Preet Singh as Katrina during a meeting and she had nothing to say in retaliation owing to the imposing persona of the man.  

I had an enjoyable time watching Runway 34 and wouldn’t mind watching it again. It has an interesting story to tell that may not be fresh but is executed well enough to be engrossing, affecting, and thrilling when it needs to be. The performances are terrific and the faceoff between Bachchan and Devgn was worth the wait. The visual effects were surprisingly good and successfully elevated those portions of the film that I expected to be average. Because of the competent VFX, the thrill and tension of the film were reinforced and rendered the first half gripping. I liked the climax of the film and feel that it couldn’t have ended on a better note. For all this and more, Runway 34 is the best film out this week. If you have seen RRR and KGF: Chapter 2 already, then Runway 34 is the best option that you have for a big-screen escapade this week.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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