Exactly a decade ago, Hollywood had come up with a stunning docudrama United 93 (2006) which was a real-time account of the events on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 11th September, 2001. Though the plane had crashed, it was only after the passengers foiled a terrorist attack.
Circa 2016 and India’s own heroic account from 1986 is recreated in the form of Neerja. However, unlike United 93 which had a bunch of passengers coming together to take on terrorists, this one is about a 23 year old girl who ensured the safety of more than 300 passengers entirely on her own. This makes this story all the more commendable and for that, one has to thank director Ram Madhwani. If not for him, this story may have just gone untold.
One has to credit him big time for the manner in which he keeps the two hour narrative tout, despite 70% of the film being shot inside a (well created) airplane. This could have well turned out to be a claustrophobic affair due to its setting, theme and treatment. However, the manner in which he brings everything together, be it the screenplay, dialogues, camera movement, editing, sound and the background score, it is so well spun that you can’t help but clap in unison.
That said, the biggest of the technically brilliant films fail if not complimented by the performances. This is where Sonam Kapoor steps in. SHE IS NEERJA BHANOT. Period. Right from the opening scene where she goes all natural for a house party, you know that this is going to be one act that would be miles away from some of the hardcore commercial films that she has done. She is truly brilliant in practically each of her scenes, whether they are the ones with her love interest Shekhar Ravjiani (very nice), her parents (Shabana Azmi and Yogendra Tikku – who also played Kangna’s gather in Queen), her colleagues or the terrorists.
In fact, the scenes that stands out the most are the ones where she negotiates with the terrorists. This is where one gets to see her vulnerable side where she plays a balancing act between being truly scared to still maintaining her presence of mind. Unlike many a film where protagonists like these turn into out and out heroes after a provocation or two, Neerja’s characterization is given a sensible appeal and this is where the coming together of Ram and Sonam impresses you the most.
Amongst the terrorists, there are a couple of new actors who stand out – one, who is maniacal and has almost the same screen time as Sonam, and the other who leads them all. These two actors are indeed finds, especially the former, and it would be interesting to see how Bollywood utilises them. As for Shabana Azmi, finally Bollywood seems to be utilizing her well at this age, as was the case first in Jazbaa and now Neerja.
How one wishes though that Ram hadn’t got a bit carried away with the fact that he had Madame Azmi in his fold. That’s because just when he could have ended the film at an opportune moment, he drags the film by a good 10 minutes by dedicating a series of scenes to the veteran actress. The shock value that was inserted into the narrative till that crucial moment was an ideal stage to get the end credits rolling. However, what one gets to see is that impact getting diluted to some extent, before the final speech gets it all back together.
Nonetheless, this is a minor aberration in the overall scheme of things as in the bigger scenario, Neerja is a huge winner. It stays true to the genre, is a high quality entertainer with a realistic theme and treatment, fits in everything perfectly well right from drama to thrills to emotions, and ensures that when you leave theatre, there is a lump in your throat and tear in your eye.
You can’t miss it as an audience. As for the Government, it can do its bit by ensuring that Neerja goes Tax Free this weekend itself without any delay whatsoever. Neerja Bhanot and the team of Neerja deserve that.
Parting note: The film has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING anti-Pakistan.