Review: August 2nd, 1990 was a rather disastrous day in contemporary history when Iraq sent a battalion of forces to invade the Emirate of Kuwait to put an end to years-long conflict between the two countries over oil production. However, the biggest collateral damage was done to 1,70,000 Indians who were left penniless and homeless in the war-torn zone as the Army wreaked havoc all across the streets. Now, to just come up with the idea of bringing to screen this tragic and eventually inspiring event is itself a credible achievement and director Raja Krishna Menon has done a commendable job in telling this story with minimal gratuitous cinematic interventions that could have turned it into more of a slog. The wrath and destruction inflicted on the streets is beautifully shot and transports you directly to the scene. Take that scene where Iraqi soldiers barge into the Indian refugee camp carrying out a witch-hunt to find any Kuwaiti citizen who remains to be finished. Or my favourite scene in which Purab Kohli reveals, without much ado, that his wife has been missing since the attack took place which serves as a grim reminder of the gravity of the situation and how enormous the problems faced by every estranged individual were. It punches you straight in the gut and it's moments like these which make Airlift rise above the ordinary.
The script, however, isn't as water-tight as Akshay's evacuation plan. Raja uses broad strokes to paint the characters of Indian officials and their nonchalant behaviour to deal with the mammoth crisis. Also, two characters, Nimrat Kaur (who was so good in The Lunchbox) as the nagging wife and Prakash Belawada as George who's annoyingly cynical, seem out of place in a film that's gritty for most part. Equally unconvincing is the ease with which the refugees enter Jordan and how Air India's pilots are pacified to fly commercial planes in a war-riven area.
It's the performances, though, that hold the film together even as it seems to fall apart. Akshay Kumar marches along with a terrific, restrained performance to single-handedly execute the mass evacuation, and it's hard to think of anyone else in his shoes. Purab Kohli underplays his part and conveys brooding silence quite effectively. Even lesser known faces like the brilliant Kumud Mishra ( the sole silver lining in the Ministry of External Affairs who offers succour in times of distress) and the Kuwaiti woman are refreshingly natural.
I'm still going with 3.5/5 for Airlift. Despite its shortcomings, it is consistently watchable because it has its heart in the right place and deserves a watch for its inherent courage and sincerity.