By: Samar Khan
Based on a true story of Indians stuck in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion of the Gulf nation in the early 1990s, Airlift tells the tale of one of the more important characters on the ground who overcame all manner of obstacles to get his people out of a war-torn nation.
Since the film doesn’t entirely follow the Bollywood outline established in our Dilwale review (check it out if you haven’t already, it’s far superior to actually subjecting yourself to that atrocious piece of filmmaking), this review will utilize a slightly modified Bollywood review system. The film stars Akshay Kumar in the lead role; does he deliver to us another Special Chabbis or were we given something as awful as Boss or Singh is Bliing?
You may be a tad thrown off by the separation of paragraphs for the first time in a review for The Film Lawyers but the reasoning behind a format change such as this is simple: easier to read for you, the audience, and it highlights the key aspects of the Bollywood films being reviewed.
Continuing with the review now, Airlift’s plot was promoted as being extremely similar to that of Argo, the Academy award-winning film starring the future Batman Ben Affleck that focused on a hostage extraction in a 1979 era Iran. Whereas Argo had 6 hostages stuck in a hostile environment, Airlift had 170,000 and billed it as being a massive caper. The major difference between the two films, however, is obvious from the get-go: outside of Akshay Kumar’s performance, the supporting cast was not quite as great as Kumar was when delivering their performances, which ensured that the film failed to deliver the requisite tension that would highlight the stakes involved. The script suffered from poor pacing and failed to know when to properly insert humorous segments, with segments that should have been more serious in nature having random comedic segments hammered in between.
The story being told was fantastic, but the writers failed to find a way to extrapolate the concept into a script that would fit a 2-hour runtime. The most notable example of script issues concerns the titular airlift itself; audiences are expecting a massive build and an appropriate amount of time for the actual evacuation. Instead, 95% of the film goes by before the term is even used and when it is carried out on screen, it is rushed and therefore, fails to make the impact it should have. Imagine if Argo had consisted of devising an escape plan and then mentioned the operation in the final 15 or so minutes and then rushed the actual evacuation without adding appropriate tension. That’s Airlift.
This segment was a tad difficult to judge for one reason and one reason only: Akshay Kumar’s performance was as emotional and poignant as we’ve come to expect from him in these last few years and almost masked the relative failure of his supporting cast to deliver performances at an equally high level. Kumar plays Ranjit Katyal, a Kuwaiti at heart (Indian by birth), who develops feelings of concern for his fellow Indians-Turned-Kuwaitis and goes out of his way to find some method of getting 170,000 people home. A lesser actor would fail to convincingly sell a character evolution that quickly in a film but Kumar is no lesser actor, as his efforts in OMG: Oh My God! and the aforementioned Special Chabbis have shown. Unfortunately for him, his evolution and arc is dragged down by the poor efforts around him.
Nimrat Kaur, fresh off a wonderful turn in Showtime’s Homeland where she portrayed a Pakistani ISI agent, plays the wife of Kumar’s Katyal, Amrita. Her performance was somewhat inconsistent, with some segments showcasing her dramatic acting chops while other scenes consisted of her getting heavily out-acted (is this a term? It should be) by her male co-star in Kumar. It’s a shame, as she has shown she can turn in some great performances in the past (The Lunchbox, anyone?) but was hampered by a script that wrote her character almost as poorly as it could. There was one brilliant segment where she defended her husband’s methods to a crowd containing the magnificent Prakash Belawadi (stellar in a limited role) and had members of the audience clapping. That was followed by bits where her character failed to deliver the appropriate facial expressions (again, Kumar outshined almost everyone here) that highlighted a distinct gulf in the quality of the performances between Kumar and everyone else. Kaur’s inconsistent dialogue and role is sadly not a surprise, as Bollywood’s notoriously male-dominated scripts ensure that female leads will forever be relegated to weaker roles in the majority of films.
Kumud Mishra was brilliant in his role as Sanjeev Kohli, playing an integral role in the evacuation of the characters but he and Kumar had the misfortune of being surrounded by some wooden supporting performances that overshadowed the positives of their efforts. Inaamulhaq deserves special mention here, for taking a character that should have been so much more than was given, essentially playing a caricature and being guilty of extreme overacting in all of his scenes. While he provided some humorous segments, his role as a general in Saddam’s was questioned as his character’s comical nature was at odds with the situation happening around him. Alas, a relatively supporting cast brings down the excellent duo of Mishra and Kumar.
Due to the nature of the film, the soundtrack was not as essential as it would be in something such as Bajirao Mastani (seriously, read our review and then go watch the film). Therefore, when analyzing Airlift, the film’s score will be covered in greater detail than the songs we typically associate with Bollywood. Before delving into the score, I would like to highlight yet ANOTHER Arijit Singh song that is as wonderful as almost anything the man turns out. “Soch Na Sake” is his newest song and, while its placement in the film is questionable at best and feels entirely forced, the quality of the song’s lyrics and Singh’s voice is enough to overcome any placement qualms. It truly was that good, and something we would heartily recommend enter your playlists immediately.
The score itself was passable, with no special qualities. There was no segment in the film where one could sit back and state “hm, that scene was truly elevated with the sound used in the background.” Rather, it can best be described as a commendable effort by the crew in charge of the film’s sound, lacking that special something that immediately distinguishes one film from another. Case in point, the heartbeat jingle that plays as part of the score in Kal Ho Na Ho is something a viewer (listener?) can experience once, enjoy it and forever more associate that jingle with that film. Nothing of that sort sadly exists in Airlift.
Outside of the aforementioned script issues that plagued the film, the editing was one aspect that left a lot to be desired. Quick jumps to new scenes, some poor use of CGI to render war vehicles (would it have been so difficult to just rent a few tanks for the film rather than attempting to showcase the might of Saddam’s Iraqi forces with clearly fake weaponry?) and inconsistency in scene transitions (some scenes dragged, some cut to another scene before the impact could be felt) were just some of the other flaws that accompanied the weak script.
Don’t get me wrong, the flaws with the film definitely dragged it down but Kumar and Mishra’s performances and the concept that the script was attempting to get across just managed to overcome them to make Airlift an enjoyable film. The film is very jingoistic (to be expected, it centers on India rescuing its people from a foreign country) but at times, it became overwhelming with the amount of times the director and script hammered home that India was fantastic. It spent the first half establishing that the government may not be all that great and tried to create tension, then threw it all away in the second half by repeatedly mentioning how much the people love their motherland and what not.
Despite all of that, the film is still a fun affair and its jingoistic nature in the second half had people applauding (for India, not the film), which means that it, at least, succeeds in capturing the heart of its intended audience.
We here at The Film Lawyers have decided to grace Airlift with a grade of B- (7.0/10).