I went in to watch Neerja with really low expectations. It is a story based on true events, we’ve seen many biopics go downhill, it’s directed by a revered name of the advertising world, but so was ‘Hansi to Phasi, it’s got Sonam Kapoor playing the lead of the film, her acting abilities can be summed up in a word.
But this is that one time when I can happily say, I was wrong, and on all accounts.
Neerja is an emotionally exhausting experience, the after math of which leaves you drained even hours later (now that’s a film!)
Neerja Bhanot was the senior flight purser on the ill-fated Pan Am Flight 73 flying from Mumbai to USA, which was hijacked by four armed men on 5 September 1986 at Karachi airport in Pakistan. The aircraft was carrying 361 passengers and 19 crewmembers. After the terrorists boarded the plane, Neerja’s quick thinking alerted the cockpit crew, who evacuated the aircraft through an overhead hatch in the cockpit as per training, so that the aircraft cannot be forcibly flown in the event of a Hijack
The film takes us through the next 17 long hours of incarceration in the lives of the hostages, how the terrorists panicked when their demands were being negotiated, ended up killing hostages in the process, and how through it all, one person with the help of her crew members tried keeping the situation as much under control.
The beauty about the way Ram Madhavan has directed Neerja, is that it is not merely a display of guts of a single person alone. His film could easily have been about the first acting feather in Sonam’s hat or a futile attempt to AIRLIFT shades of patriotism (pun intended), but instead he made this film about the incident - the hijack.
This film makes you feel for the characters - the grandmother who watched her son die and then sat there for the next 15 hours in-consoled. For the passengers, who didn’t know whose next! For the fellow cabin crew, who even in the face of death continued distributing water/ food to a panic stricken aircraft. One even feels for the terrorists who start belting under pressure & frustration, as their unity weakens realizing they might fail in the very task they’ve been training in. The irony of the situation – the terrorists feeling that their lives will be wasted in vain, if they cant succeed in their mission of crashing the plane!
Never once do we feel that Sonam is not Neerja. Never once did Ram try and put Neerja up on a hero pedestal. Mithesh Mirchandani’s camera work does not let us forget, even for a minute, what the 389 people on board are going through. The edit just does not allow you to sit back in your seat.
The drama of the hijack with the parallel story of a mother’s bond with her daughter Neerja, provides little scope for the lump in your throat to move down or a breather for your tear glands.
The background score supports the mood of the film aptly.
The finishing touch was a masterpiece.
On Neerja’s first death anniversary, her mother, while addressing supporters and survivors of the ill fated flight, remarks “I always taught my daughter to avoid altercations, to walk with her head down, in case of danger look after your safety first. But I had no idea my daughter was so brave… where did she get the courage from, sometimes I wonder, who was she? “
And that’s so true for most parents, who know their children only to be what they’re raising them to be.
Be ready to cry for at least 80 out of the 122 minutes. But I can confidently say that your time spent crying will be well worth it, because very rarely comes a film where EVERY SINGLE ELEMENT from the acting (one particular hijacker deserves the supporting cast award), direction, edit, cinematography, background score, hell even the background artists make you believe the story they’re telling you.
Some things I read:
1. Neerja’s dad’s moving piece in1986: “Goodbye Lado, please keep coming…”
2. One of the children, then aged7, is now a captain for a major airline and has stated that Neerja Bhanot has been his inspiration and he owes every day of his life to her.
3. Neerja was recognized internationally as "the heroine of the hijack" and is the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra Award, India's most prestigious gallantry award for bravery during peace time.
4. The actors who played theterrorists also came from theater background but to maintain authenticity in their performances, they were kept away from the rest of the cast who played passengers. The first time they saw each other was the time when the terrorists hold a gun on Sonam Kapoor and the passengers' faces
5. Even though her family feels Sonam resembles Neerja, Neerja’s mother before passing away told Sonam that her daughter Neerja was prettier J