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Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Shekhar Ravijani, Yogendra Tiku
Just a few weeks ago, we had a movie based on a real life incident which tried its best to create a hero, often forgetting the thin line between creative liberty and distortion of facts, yet at best emerged as an average fare which sailed through thanks to the nationalist flavour of the week. This week debutant director Ram Madhvani shows us how it is done. Simply put, Neerja soars high, and before landing at its rather tragic destination, makes you feel for the lead character, Neerja in a way so strong that it is a testimonial to the power of cinema, or to be precise, good cinema.
That Neerja Bhanot’s story is inspirational and the young woman did something extraordinary is an established fact. But often good stories do not result in good movies, and thankfully this is not one of those cases. The movie tells the story of a (yet to be) 23 year old Neerja Bhanot (Sonam Kapoor), who lives with her doting parents (Shabana Azmi, Yogendra Tiku) brothers. Post a successful modelling career, she has just got her first opportunity as the head purser in a Pan Am flight directed to Frankfurt via Karachi. Amidst the ill-fated plane that gets hijacked, her past consisting of an abusive marriage that haunts her, and supportive parents, how Neerja shows exceptional courage and human spirit forms the crux of the story. The makers get the 80’s set up right, though the Rajesh Khanna reference is overdone at times. Also, a few of the Bollywood clichés about parents could have been avoided in an otherwise realistic movie. Thankfully, the director doesn’t waste much time in build-up, and is very effective in maintaining an atmosphere of tension and distress throughout the movie. The moments before the main event kicks in work well to establish the characters we care for, before the calamity strikes. Once we are in the plane, there is no looking back. The fear is almost palpable, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats throughout, despite knowing what is about to unfold; and when is does, it is heart wrenching. It is probably the saddest that you’ll feel at the movies in a while, (except the times when your choice of the movie makes you sad) and that’s the power of this beautiful story, told in a very powerful way.
Sonam Kapoor must be applauded for her choice of the movie, for this might very well be the career defining role for her. While there were doubts about how well she could pull this off, there is no denying that this is her best work yet. In a role that demands a lot from her – looking picture perfect as an air-hostess and channeling her inner strength on screen, she excels. In the scenes where she is about to break down and yet derives strength from her past, she is exceptional. Shekhar Ravijani and Yogendra Tiku play their roles well. However, expectedly the performance which breaks your heart, and is sure to move you to tears is that of the veteran, Shabana Azmi. Her reactions when she gets to know of the hijack are priceless. And then there is the climax speech, which is bound to make everyone reach out for tissues. The music, cinematography and dialogues are all controlled, devoid of any unnecessary frills and offer able support to the emotional core of the movie, the main strength of it.
Emotional core, a necessity for any work of art, yet a rare phenomenon in our industry. Movies like Neerja show us cinema can do more than giving you a good time and making you laugh. This is a story which deserved to be told, and has been told in such a real manner that it is often uncomfortable. But then, comfort isn’t the point of art, well not always.