This is a wow biopic of Neerja Bhanot, the Pan Am flight Purser who lost her life shielding three children from a hail of bullets from the terrorists who had hijacked the flight in Pakistan. She not only saved the three kids but her calm presence also ensured that the pilots were alerted on time so that they could escape and most of the 361 passengers on board along with the crew managed to escape when she opened the emergency door.
She could have been the first to slide down the chute. A thought that immediately strikes you as she opens the door; she had her family back home. But full marks to director Ram Madhvani for not glorifying that moment a la
Hindi film style but letting the viewer grasp the 'sacrificial moment' as it happens... in a flash. NEERJA
is a wonderful story of a brave woman told with tons of emotions. Madhvani beautifully draws you into the life of Neerja even before the names roll out capturing the essence of Neerja's character and that of her family and the society she lives in, in Bombay.
A failed marriage, a budding modelling career and now a flight purser; not to mention her fascination for Rajesh Khanna movies, songs and dialogues; Neerja is a bundle of energy, and the life of any gathering. There is also a romance brewing that would tragically be cut short. The camera keeps the low-light tone throughout, which looks annoying at first, but as the movie progresses throws light on the thought-process of cinematographer Mitesh Mirchandani.
Madhvani uses the back-and-forth scenes judiciously to build a climax as well as take us into the mind of Neerja and her ultimate sacrifice. Even the initial scenes when the terrorists are making arrangements in Pakistan in the dead of night to hijack the Pan Am flight and the society party where Neerja stays and her getting ready for her flight, builds up the tension that is to follow. These scenes are wonderfully juxtaposed.
The passengers on board and the four terrorists along with the flight crew all add to the canvas to make NEERJA a moving watch. Towards the end, there's a flood of tears that you cannot control and you heart reaches out to her parents.
Shabana Azmi and Yogendra Tiku are first rate as Neerja's parents. Both these veterans add guile to their craft as they essay their heart-touching roles. The passengers on board display the fright that would have been evident on Pan Am Flight 73 on September 5, 1986. The terrorists are 'maddeningly brilliant'. As time passes by and their game is being stalled, the move to madness is brilliantly executed by them. It gives you the jitters. Moreover, Madhvani creates moments which actually takes you to the middle of the trauma being enacted on screen.
Sonam Kapoor finally gets her due and a role she stands up to with her chin up. She absorbs Neerja and makes her, her own. I'm sure the Bhanot family, when they see the movie, will identify with their daughter through Sonam's depiction of India's brave heart.
Neerja became the youngest recipient of The Ashok Chakra (posthumously) India's highest peacetime military award for bravery. This followed awards from Pakistan and the US as well.
Neerja died two days short of her 23rd birthday.
NEERJA, the movie, celebrates one of our own. More importantly it celebrates humanity and service before self.
A brave movie! A poignant tale! A movie worth going miles to see!