‘Do your duty, what may come. Never compromise on your self-respect’.
Head purser Neerja Bhanot, 23, followed this citation and sacrificed her life while saving 359 passengers against ANO terrorist, who hijacked Pan Am 73 flight 0n the fateful 5th September, 1986.
Truth to be told, I had no idea who Neerja was & I am pretty sure most of us remained oblivious until we saw the trailer of the film based on her that starred Sonam Kapoor. Believe me, had we been in her place, we would’ve peed on our pants.
Neerja (Sonam Kapoor) dabbles between modeling and pursuing career as air-hostess. She is selected as a Head purser for Pan Am Flight 73 that would carry passengers from Bombay to New York via Karachi and Frankfurt as International halt.
In the same frame, we are introduced to the Palestine based terrorist preparing to hijack the very same plane in Karachi Airport. All hell break loose when the flight reaches the Karachi airport runaway and is immediately attacked, hijacked and passengers are held hostages. From here on, Neerja – despite being terrified – maintains her sanity and choose to save passengers over running away that ultimately led to her death.
Director Ram Madhvani turns this tragic event into a breath-taking thrilling film and not even once we loose our attention. Many of us have recently learned about Neerja’s was married before and how it went kaput as a result of domestic violence she faced in the hands of her Doha based husband. Neerja correlates the abusive trauma with the hijack, and how her father’s words motivated her to face the situation with rather calm mind.
She is seen taking charge of the situation, encourages her co-hostess and steward to daringly trick the hijackers, ensure passports are selectively manipulated to avoid foreign passengers being targeted, serves refreshments and emotionally anchor everyone who are visibly feared for their life. Amidst this chaos, Neerja never looses her conscious, cleverly stay grounded to hijackers who often fall flat to her courageous gaze.
I found myself rooting for her, wishing she would successfully save herself of the carnage alive despite knowing the reality that she never made it. The film is terrifically shot – cinematography by Mitesh Mirchandani – capturing the anxiety and claustrophobia that plagued almost everyone in the stationary flight.
Shabana Azmi is brilliant as Neerja’s lovable mother Rama Bhanot (who recently passed away). I don’t need to elaborate how good she is, yet she was inconsolable as a mother who loses her daughter, the scene where she receives her Neerja’s corpse breaks your heart badly, prepare to get moist-eyed. Literally !. Yogendra Tiku (prominent since ‘Queen’) is endearing as supporting father who stood by her daughter against all odds, he come across as a father who -unlike traditional society fearing patriarch – motivates her daughter to take a brave step of dissociating herself from the marriage not meant for her.
Jim Sarbh, who is cast as volatile terrorist Khalil – is the result of genius casting. Bearing resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen, Jim haunts you with his unpredictable actions and he is so consumed by his anger, he even ends up intimidating his own members with his snarling outburst.
Sonam Kapoor, biggest strength of the film – delivers a tour-de-force performance of a lifetime. She humanizes Neerja with great dignity and wonderfully slips into the character making it memorable. Best way to compliment is to say that I forgot I was watching Sonam. She is sensible, feared, cool and yet clever to analyze the situation with sanity. I can safely say that harshest of the harshest critic of her will no longer hate her anymore, that good she is.
Last but not the least, A big salutation and respect to the woman on whom the film is based on : Neerja Bhanot.
‘I have no words to express. What you did for the passengers of Pan Am Flight is beyond all important bravery awards existing and it epitomizes selfless humanity. You were a warrior behind the wardrobe of an air hostess. On behalf of all of us, I would want to apologize to you that we never had taken an effort to know you and bestow our love and salutations.
You’ve taught me a very important lesson today that ‘Do your duty, what may come. Never let death dull your sparkle’. Very late to say this, please accept our gratitude. Your story of selfless compassion for humanity will inspire us every moment’
It’s only February, and we have already got our first best film of 2016 and a leading lady who has secured her place in the best actress award list. Neerja is courageous, thrilling and inspiring film. Watch it not only for the history of the event but also for the lady herself, who deserved to live.