Neerja is based on the real-life story of courageous airflight purser Neerja Bhanot, who helped rescue most of the passengers aboard her hijacked plane. She died in the process.
This happened in 1986, the pre-internet era, when the news was gleaned via newspapers and emails had yet to replace the handwritten letter. I was a child then, and I don't have clear memories of this incident although it must have been all over the newspapers. After seeing the film, I'm amazed that it took so long to make a movie on this brave young woman!
There are no unexpected twists and turns in this film, because we know of Neerja's story, but I was taken quite by surprise at the excellent quality of the film. Neerja is so realistic. The film starts off showing Neerja's middle-class neighborhood, and her loving family. I identified with their life. In her parents I saw shades of mine. In one of the scenes, her brother teases her, saying she looks like "such an aunty", a typical brotherly thing to say.
The impact of the film comes from its portrayal of events in gritty detail. There is Neerja herself, of course, but then there are also her flight crew, the pilots and the stewardesses, the passengers. Each of them is humanized, and given a personality (as much of that as possible). The film details out Neerja's personality as a good person, who's had a traumatic past (a marriage), but is surrounded by loving family and looking forward to a hopeful future. To see it cut short so tragically, is immensely saddening. I wept buckets.
Neerja has a magnificent cast, with Shabana Azmi leading. As Neerja's mother Rama, she is superb. Neerja is her lamb, her precious daughter, and she showers her with love. When news of the hijacking filters in, she is dumbstruck, for a few seconds too dazed to know what she is doing. Also Sonam, whom I've always thought a fine actress, is really very good here.
This is an incredible film. Do go see.