Airlift is making waves – and money – at the box office and the audience has been bowled over by the performances in the film. Apart from Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur, who play the lead roles, Prakash Belawadi is also receiving a big applause for his performance. This week, we spoke to the actor about his journey with this film.
The response is overwhelming. People have started noticing me in public places. Now, a lot of people stop me when they recognise me and shake hands, take selfies. Yes, they seem to like me. This is my first big popular film – what we all hope will become a blockbuster film. It’s a little bewildering. I would like to give credit to the makers and the team of Airlift who stood by me and supported me throughout.
After Madras Café, I received good comments and everyone applauded my role. After that, I did Youngistaan, Talvarand a small role in Wazir but it is Airlift that has got me so much recognition. I have been receiving many congratulatory messages and emails but someone made a meme which I find really funny. It says if this character that I play had been left behind in Kuwait in the airlift operation, it would have helped. It is overwhelming to know that audiences loved your character so much that they in real life thought you are so bad.
On bagging Airlift
I bagged the film due to sheer luck. Director and writer Raja Krishna Menon had seen me in Madras Cafe, a film he admires. I am Kannadiga in every way, accent, body and soul – but I played a Malyali character in that film and spoke a few words in Malayalam. Since Raja wanted a prominent Malayalam presence in the film, I think I was top of the mind for him.
Our director Raja conceived the plot and wrote the story. He invented fictional characters to tell a true story. He knew why each character had to be there, to serve a purpose. For instance, when Ranjit Katiyal (Akshay Kumar) is thinking of moving just himself and his family to safety, a poor old man, his eyes brimming with tears, says ‘Thanks for being here for us’. That changes the hero’s (Akshay) intent! A small but powerful moment of cinema.
A film is made with a team, so there were many characters, including George Kutty, played by me. He should be the cause of irritation and annoyance to the hero (and audience) but every little thing he says should make the hero pause and challenge his intent because there’s an element of truth to it. George is the essential, deprived Indian, always suspicious of the government, management, the rich and powerful and the establishment. He is frantic to secure his share of the fast-disappearing pie. This entire sketch Raja conveyed to me, in his writing, discussions and shot taking. Then we developed the character on the sets. Remember, there is no villain in the film… It needed a foil, a substitute adversarial character.
Adding your own shade
I’m a middle-class Indian male and there’s an element of ‘George’ in all of us. But I got a lot of help from Lena Kumar, who plays my wife in the film. A fine actress with superb insight into the character, she was the wise one who made me understand how women see chauvinist, insecure and argumentative males, who would rather win a stupid argument than solve the actual problem. So it became easy for me to understand how I would develop the character.
Airlift was a great collaborative effort. There was much discussion and reconciliation and that is unusual in a film of this scale and ambition, with a big star. Every department listened to the other, accepted the interference and accommodated the better idea. That is possible only when a director is secure about his own vision and clarity. Raja was clear about what he wanted and we all worked for the betterment of the film. My stand-out image of the entire experience is cinematographer Priya Seth taking charge of the camera set-up. She was magnificent.