Watching Airlift, I am reminded of how a director can make or break a film. In this case, it is the latter, because for all its hype, Airlift is a shoddy piece of work. Going in for the film, I had high hopes, because all the hype was so positive. I smelled a rat, when smack-dab in almost the first scene I was treated to the film's (thankfully) only item-number.
The story is based on the real-life evacuation of 170,000 Indians caught in Kuwait, after the Iraqi invasion. The movie's fictional protagonist Ranjit Katiyal is a rough amalgamation of the two real men who helped engineer the evacuation. In the film, Katiyal (Akshay Kumar), an Indian with strong roots in Kuwait, is caught unawares as Iraqi tanks move into Kuwait and things go from bad to worse with alarming speed. Instead of quickly evacuating with his family, Katiyal instead stays back and assumes responsibility for the safety of Indian families in Kuwait. Nimrat Kaur plays his haltingly supportive wife Amrita.
Now, I am glad that this is not the usual ghisa-pita film; it actually has a story with some sense. Its got some good actors and some parts of the film, like the scenes depicting the bureaucracy in Delhi, are indeed done believably. That's the good part. However there's a lot to counter that good with. The writing and screenplay are poor and the pace loses steam. The film's scenes are juxtaposed together without much finesse, so the narrative doesn't exactly flow.
Airlift's characters are shallowly etched - Ranjit's character changes from streetsmart businessman to semi-deshbhakt, and that transition is depicted in awkward, black-and-white strokes. Akshay who can turn out decent performances in the hands of a good director, isn't able to play Katiyal's character with nuance. Even Nimrat who is a fine, fine actress (have you seen The LunchBox?), is reduced to looking like a newbie actress, flailing about trying to find her footing. For these many things to go wrong, I have to blame the director.
As I said, there is some good in Airlift, and Purab Kohli and Kumud Mishra are much of it - 2 actors who persevere in spite of the director's amateurishness. The music is pretty good too.
So, weighing all the pros and cons: pro: good attempt, con: shoddy film-making, my verdict is that this is an average film, nothing to go rushing to the theater for. Given its overt jingoism and the hype, this will be on television soon :-). Curl up at home and wait for it.