The film is directed by Ram Madhvani
As everyone knows, Neerja is based on the brave airhostess who lost her life saving many others during the unforgettable Pan Am hijacking of 1986. When it comes to hijacking dramas, the first and the best film that comes to my mind is United 93, a terrifying drama set on the only flight that crashed on an empty paddock during the infamous 9/11 attacks. As far as I can remember, Bollywood's last attempt in this genre was the mediocre Shiney Ahuja film, Hijack. So it was with some trepidation that I went to watch Neerja, but in the end, I was simply bowled over!
What's it about
Neerja Bhanot (Sonam Kapoor), Pan Am air hostess and part time model, had everything that she needed to be happy, a supportive family, including a doting mother (Shabana Azmi) and a caring boyfriend (Shekhar Ravjiani). She was also a huge Rajesh Khanna fan. However, she had been involved in an abusive marriage before that nearly destroyed her spirit. The film begins one day prior to that infamous hijacking. Neerja had just been promoted as the head purser of the ill-fated flight, and she was seen celebrating with her family at a society function. At the same, in Karachi, five terrorists were preparing themselves for their dastardly mission. The next day, when Neerja's flight had a stopover at Karachi, the terrorists forcibly entered the airfield and hijacked the plane, with the intention of flying it to Cyprus. However, Neerja warned the pilots who follow protocols and abandon cockpit. With no one to fly the plane, the terrorists took the passengers for ransom and demanded the pilots back from the authorities. They show that they mean business when they began killing off passengers one by one. It is left to Neerja to calm the passengers and handle the situation without letting it spiral out of control. But you know how it all ends...
The biggest positive I can say about the film, and I would want to say right at the start itself, the film never lets down the spirit of Neerja Bhanot. While Bollywood biopics have the tendency to put masala in stories of real life personalities, Neerja thankfully avoids that! If Neerja was a hero in real life, Ram Madhvani is the real hero of the film. It is to his credit that he has made such a compelling drama that will keep you on the edge of your seats. The entire hijacking situation is so brilliantly shot that you feel that you are a part of the life threatening drama. The tension you feel in the scenes are palpable, especially when the terrorists realise there is no hope for them and they become reckless. The docu style camera work heightens the sense of claustrophobia in you. The background score is tense and brilliantly done. But where Ram Madhvani actually scores is how he shot the final moments of Neerja's sacrifice - intense yet emotionally wrought. If those scenes don't bring tears from your eyes, your heart is definitely made of stone. Another thing that worked for the film is the casting. From the main leads to even the supporting ones, everyone has done Justice to their roles. The makers must be lauded for choosing relative new comers in the other roles, as it works in creating a sense of realism. The actors playing the terrorists totally look their part, especially the one playing Khalil. But the film would not have been what it is, if it was not for the film's main leads. Despite her limitations (her voice is still not so easy to adjust), Sonam is the heart and soul of the film. This is a role that she can show her detractors and ask them to just shut up! She is terrific, especially in the second half, where her eyes speak a lot, of fear, of courage. Shabana Azmi is great, as always and her final speech will definitely make you cry if you haven't started yet. Yogendra Tiku, who plays Sonam's father in the film, is another actor to look out for. In his debut film, composer Shekhar Ravjiani is pretty likeable in his small role.
The film is not without its small flaws. The harbingers of Neerja's fate in the initial portions could have been lessened, like the taxi driver wishing her a long life, her brother telling her she won't die if she doesn't covet the magazine or Neerja dancing to Rajesh Khanna's Bye Bye song. Also, if a scene or two would have shown about how the Indian Government reacted to the situation, it would have been great. These are just little nitpicking I have...nothing else that really hampers the viewing!
What to do
Neerja's last words to her mother in the film is a famous Rajesh Khanna dialogue about Pushpa and her tears! Even though I hate them a lot, you just can't leave the hall with dry eyes! Aamir, you have more company in the crying club.
Go watch one of the best Hindi films made in recent times ASAP!
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