Producers: Fox Star Studios, Atul Kasbekar, Shanti Sivaram Maini
Director: Ram Madhvani
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Yogendra Tikku, Jim Sarbh, Prashantt Guptha, Shekhar Ravjiani (s.a)
Writer: Saiwyn Qadras (story & screenplay), Sanyuktha Chawla (dialogue)
Music: Vishal Khurana
Over the past couple of years the Indian audience has proven repeatedly that content wins the box office race. And in recent times real life stories have ruled the silver screen, the latest being Airlift, released a few months ago. Neerja is a film based on true events and is executed brilliantly, from its writing to its more technical aspects, rich in content and with the ability to impress the audience.
What makes Neerja special is the fact that it embodies the importance of a strong pivotal role and of the actor playing that character. We in Bollywood, tend to judge by the big names attached to a production and believe that they will determine the fate of a film. Neerja proves this WRONG with the presence of Shabana Azmi.
Whenever she appears onscreen she lifts the scale of the film with her performance and makes Neerja a MUST WATCH! Her expressions, her emotions, her smiles, her mannerisms…all these are nothing less than a lesson in what acting is all about. Undoubtedly, Shabana Azmi is the USP of Neerja after the fact that the film is based on the story, Neerja Bhanot, India’s Youngest Ashok Chakra Winner: Brave In Life, Brave In Death.
Other aspects that favour the film include the perfect casting and the factual substance on the storyboard which is presented with conviction on the silver screen. The narration needs to be imbued with transparency in situations and the protagonist must be able to hold ground from the very first frame to the very last. That’s where the film scores. It is as edgy and as thrilling as it could get. Technically, the film excels with a brilliantly executed screenplay, credible acting by the cast and swift dialogue, all of which is wrapped up in 122 minutes.
This one is based on the life of flight attendant Neerja Bhanot, who was shot dead by terrorists in Karachi on September 5, 1986, on board a Pan Am flight from Mumbai to New York via Karachi and Frankfurt. The film starts with Neerja (Sonam Kapoor), who is an ordinary young woman who enjoys her job as a flight attendant and a model, and loves her family. Her middle-class parents, Rama (Shabana Azmi) and Harish (Yogendra Tikku) dote on their daughter and support her decision to move back home with them post a marriage turned sour due to dowry demands. When her flight (Pan Am 73) is hijacked in Karachi by Palestinian terrorists who hold the passengers and crew hostage in exchange for their jailed cohorts, she bravely sacrifices her life to save the children she protects. How the film unfolds forms the crux of the story.
The simplicity and anguish in each frame stands out, but with subtlety. Many scenes overwhelm emotionally and are in tune with the essence of the subject. Director Ram Madhvani smartly carves out a niche screenplay and as a director, he holds his narrative reins firmly throughout. Madhvani presents a clear winner with Neerja. He swiftly gets his screenplay in motion and has the storyboard ready from the word ‘go’. He puts the characters in a tight spot with perfect logic and smartly describes the 1980s and successfully showcases the era. Writer Saiwyn Qadras weaves an interesting and crisp screenplay that is further complemented by Sanyuktha Chawla’s dialogue.
Scenes that stand out are the hijacking of the plane, the sequences when Neerja remembers her past, when her family – especially her parents – try to reassure each other about her wellbeing and when Neerja’s mother rushes out to buy her daughter’s birthday gift. The last scene where Rama Bhanot gives a speech is tear-jerking and empathic.
The editing by Monisha R Baldawa is crisp and tight. Cinematography by Mitesh Mirchandani is another asset – he handles the plane sequences with panache. The music is good and the background score is commendable.
Performance-wise, Neerja is by far Sonam Kapoor’s most poignant performance. She is poised, she is prudent, she is emotional, and she is simply outstanding. She plays carefully with the undertone of her character. Her performance is a perfect blend of confidence and subtlety, her best to date. Shabana Azmi as Neerja’s mother plays a stellar role. She portrays her part beautifully and is indeed a master of her craft – yet another award winning act from Shabana Azmi! Yogendra Tikku gets under the skin of his character and impresses when it comes to emoting his part with the right nuances as a worried father. Jim Sarbh is confident and impresses with the grittiness wrapped with a certain ease in his role. Music composer Shekhar Ravjiani in a special appearance suits his part to the fullest and delivers impressively. Prashantt Guptha is good. Others in supporting roles perfectly match their respective characters.
Verdict: A film NOT to be missed!