After BABY, Akshay Kumar delivers yet another thriller with deadpan calm. Here too, a flight takes off at the end, but there's no drama at the take-off like in Neeraj Pandey's film.
Raja Krishna Menon sets his movie in 1990 in Kuwait, when Iraq invaded the country. Lakhs of Indians were affected as the Iraqi soldiers spilled Kuwaiti blood on the streets. Menon introduces the character of Ranjit Katiyal (Akshay Kumar) as this hard-nosed businessman who only looks at the profit in the balance sheet. Katiyal is also well connected. Quickly, Menon moves onto the invasion and grips you throughout.
The entire scene as the soldiers spill blood on the streets appears real. There is no over-the-top-drama as Menon inflicts that right amount of trepidation in you when Katiyal's life and those of the Indians working there changes overnight. He loses his driver to an Iraqi soldier and that is when he switches within. From being self-centered, he decides to take care of his entire staff. Soon, he realizes that other Indians too have cramped his office where his staff is taking shelter.
Amrita (Nimrat Kaur), his wife, is adamant that he leaves with her and their daughter but he insists that he stay back and take charge of the refugee camp he has set up with over 1,70,000 Indians, with the help of the Iraqi general. Katiyal is their only hope, and he goes all out, knocking on the doors of India, and even going to Iraq, until he finds help in a government employee back home.
Menon sets the pace of the film right. The young soldiers sent by Saddam to invade Kuwait and wreak havoc, and the general mayhem is well structured. You can feel the tension when the soldiers come knocking on the refugee camp. At times you can even feel the 'stink' of the state of the toilets as it would have been; thanks to George (Prakash Balewadi), who camps in at Katiyal's office and tries to demand a better deal! His obnoxious behavior, amidst the plight of so many Indians, is a standout performance.
Akshay Kumar pulls off the salt-and-pepper look, playing his age to a nicety. His character is at an age where he will take no risk, yet have the intelligence to make the right, calculated moves. He is as lithe as he was in SPECIAL 26
, and as effective. After Menon, it is he who holds the film together with his stellar act. Just once he breaks into a dance, after that it is serious business.
One thought that Nimrat Kaur would be a glamour piece in this film, but she pulls off her own in her limited space and screen time. Purab Kohli is the other surprise performer.
On a day when the Iraqis ran riot what chance did Katiyal have to survive the bullet after his driver was killed? None! Here is the weak link, where Menon brings in a major who led the attack to cross paths with Katiyal on the streets. Apparently, he was in charge of Katiyal's security when he visited Iraq a few years ago! ''Agar mein idhar se nahi guzar jata to tu guzar jaata
,'' says the major played by Inaamulhaq, in his twisted accent.
AIRLIFT brings to mind HOTEL RWANDA, the 2004 American historical drama film directed by Terry George. In this movie, Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, leads a happy life with his wife and children in Rwanda. He displays immense courage by saving the lives of many helpless refugees during a communal war.
Any resemblance of the character of Ranjit Katiyal to that of Don Cheadle would have been purely coincidental, I believe!