January 22 2016
Bollywood film shines spotlight on little known feat that is now recognised as the largest civilian evacuation ever carried out by a country…
By Tasha Mathur
IF THIS wasn’t a true story, it would have been disregarded as yet another unrealistic Bollywood movie with rolled eyes and murmurs of, ‘oh please, that would never happen…’
But this DID happen. And perhaps the most unbelievable thing about it is that most people have never heard of this story.
It’s about a real piece of history that involved a few Indian men evacuating a staggering 170,000 Indians out of Kuwait after the Iraqi Republican Guard invaded in 1990. And it’s a story that has been noted by the Guinness Book Of World Records as the largest civilian evacuation in the world.
The reason why few have heard of this tale is largely a political one. At the time, India was still on good terms with Saddam Hussein, so the plight of the thousands of Indians left in Kuwait thanks to his own invasion was successfully kept a secret. With that relationship no longer existing, it allowed director Raja Menon (who himself found out about this story through his uncle who happened to be one of the 170,000) to share this story with the world.
Aptly being released today, just four days before India’s Republic Day, “Airlift” is definitely a patriotic movie, which highlights the lengths the Indian Government went to in order to execute such a large scale evacuation. Although originally portrayed as deserting their own people and getting lost in bureaucratic red tape, we see the select few back in India who fought to ensure everyone’s safe return.
Through this, the film subtly questions where expatriates’ loyalties lie after moving away – to the country they live in or the country they originally come from?
This conflict is seen in successful businessman, Ranjit Khatyal (Akshay Kumar) who has made his fortune thanks to his life in Kuwait and openly rubbishes India to anyone who would listen.
However, once Kuwait is invaded, the dinar becomes non-existent and so does Ranjit’s wealth. Finding himself left with nothing, Ranjit is faced with the only thing that remains: his Indian identity. The pull to go back home suddenly becomes greater than ever.
Yes, there is the inevitable Bollywood factor as audiences are later told that the main protagonist is based on a couple of men and not just one. But Bollywood must have its hero and so all stories were collated into one character. It’s easy to get carried with away with such a large role, especially when based on a real person(s). However, Akshay Kumar plays Ranjit with controlled composure as he journeys through a range of emotions during his mission.
Nimrat Kaur, who plays Ranjit’s wife, Amrita, is an added delight to watch. Having recently starred in US political television drama, “Homeland” and a star of “The Lunchbox“), this role suited her perfectly.
A highlight of the film is the beautifully developed relationship between Ranjit and Amrita, who at first strongly disagrees with her husband’s decision to help evacuate the other Indians, having already been given permission to leave the country. However, her gradually increasing support and solidarity with her husband’s selfless mission is heart warming to see.
Perhaps not knowing this story adds to the movie’s gripping narrative as we watch captivated at what Ranjit’s next move is. A refreshing departure from the typical Bollywood blockbuster, “Airlift” is a must-see movie, which shares a vital part of Indian history that everyone should know about.
ACV Rating: **** (out of five)
Airlift went on release in the UK today