Director: Ram Madhvani
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Shekhar Ravjiani
Ram Madhvani's 'Neerja' is a deeply moving experience. The film is based on the true story of the braveheart, Neerja Bhanot, who saved the lives of 364 passengers on board a Pan Am flight of which she was the head purser was hijacked in 1986. Madhvani has the awe-inspiring story of Bhanot — a story of bravery and humanity in the face of a crisis — to tell, and he does it with a lot of sensitivity and grace.
Sonam Kapoor in 'Neerja'. Pic/Santa Banta
Sonam Kapoor plays Neerja, a 23-year-old who loves her job as a purser and also moonlights as a model. In spite of her glamorous profession, Neerja is a regular middle class girl from Chandigarh. There is nothing heroic about the way she's brought up. On the contrary, her mother (played by Shabana Azmi) in a characteristic maternal anxiety always advises her to "run away when there is trouble... and compromise because you are a girl." Her journalist father (played by Yogendra Tiku), however, goads her to not buckle under injustice, when she’s struggling to get out of an abusive marriage before she becomes an air hostess.
Heartbreaking! This is the voice of braveheart Neerja Bhanot
Neerja gets into the ill-fated plane from Bombay to US via Karachi, two days before her 24th birthday and the first time since her promotion as the head purser. The terrorists hijack the plane when it lands in Karachi.
The director sensitively and smartly juxtaposes the backstory of Neerja's failed marriage within the context of her present crisis in hand, thus making us wonder if her troubled past gave her the immense emotional strength that she displays while tackling the gun-toting terrorists. Determined to save as many lives as possible, Neerja, not for a single moment, loses her presence of mind. She first alerts the pilots, finds an ingenious way to save the lives of Americans on board (as she overhears the terrorists planning to kill the Americans first) and then finally manages to get the emergency door open for the passengers to flee.
While dealing with a subject of this sort, it is easy to flounder and be tempted to go overboard with melodrama and overtures. But thankfully, Ram Madhvani stays sincere to the story in hand and presents us with a real, believable film that keeps you involved every minute of its two-hour duration. He also gets the best out of his carefully handpicked cast.
Sonam Kapoor is very sincere throughout and is amazingly in control in most of the scenes. In what could be undoubtedly her best performance till date, Sonam manages to turn her 'weaknesses' to work for her in this film.
Shabana Azmi is brilliant. As she tries convincing herself that nothing could happen to her daughter, as she gives a heartbreaking tribute to her daughter, as she looks at her daughter's body for the last time, Azmi makes sure you are left moist-eyed throughout.
Even as I am writing this review, I still have a lump in my throat. Such is the power of humanity, kindness and good cinema.
Please don't miss this one.
Watch the trailer of 'Neerja'