Airlift – Soars High

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Airlift is a phenomenal movie. Imagine stranded in a war zone on foreign soil, where teenagers wielding automatic weapons can kill you with impunity, without any clue on how you are going to survive, let alone escape the nightmare. Such was the plight of all foreign residents of Kuwait when Iraq invaded in 1990. There’s no information forthcoming, no functioning government, no order, no money, no food, the country was not only ravaged and looted, but the infrastructure was left crippled. Airlift very poignantly portrays the survival and escape of more than 150000 Indians who were in Kuwait at that time, but also the failure and triumph of the Indian government and its unsung officials. If you believe the earliest reviews of the movie without watching it, or when you hear the stories from folks who went through the actual exodus, you’ll probably be left with a feeling of outrage and indignancy towards the Indian government apparatus, but after watching the movie, you’ll come to see that nobody is fundamentally bad, but it lacks the organization and swift response and a sense of urgency that you will expect especially when you are in real mortal danger. The movie also portrays the ultimate triumph of few bureaucrats who rose above the fray and answered the call of duty that will appeal to your sense of humanity and decency.


Airlift is not just a movie about a group of people who survived the war and occupation, it’s also a human drama and most importantly, it’s about individuals (or individual, in this case a Akshay’s Ranjit Katyal, who is a fictionalized reference to a Mr. Matthews and a Mr. Vedi) transformation from a self-centered, business minded persona to an altruistic soul. Katyal doesn’t get time in the movie to go through multiple stages of transformation rather reality of war and its trappings hit him very hard early on and he goes from trying to escape with his family to representing an entire community in a period of few days, to a stage that will appeal to your jingoistic nature.


As an Indian who read the stories of war in papers, I had no clue what really transpired, but fortunately I watched it with my wife who was in Kuwait during the occupation and who made the journey to India in the massive airlift, she was able to confirm the atrocities of Iraqi soldiers, general sense of anarchy, the lack of information (Imagine a world without WhatsApp, Facebook or even telephones or TV), the confusion, fear and sense of direction and confidence. Fortunately, she didn’t have to spend time in any camps, rather her family huddled with few other families and made the journey to Baghdad, Basra and then to Amman. The movie does show the majority of Indians who drove around 1000 kilometers through the desert to reach Amman to be airlifted.


It’s very hard for regular NRIs to imagine a world where our passports are not with them, your house, possessions, car, everything is gone, and your bank accounts or money has no worth (The first thing Iraq did is to devalue Kuwaiti Dinar, only US dollars had any value in the country), but the movie addresses the practical issues like food, supplies, papers, money, transport without getting overly dramatic, although the encounter with Iraqi soldiers in the climax could have been avoided, for a while it looked like it was Akshay’s action hero moment to shine, but fortunately they don’t end up showing him to be a superhuman, rather show him as a ‘super’ ‘human’.


Whatever situation you are in, whatever group you are in, there’ll a be a few characters who will really test you with their insensitivity, callousness, selfishness and brutish behavior, there’s one such character in the movie, in fact it’s almost a poetic character who’s that ‘guy’ in all of us, we all have him within us to some degree.


It definitely made me think, how would I behave in a time of crisis? I hope I live up to my own expectations of me, none of us would know until we are thrown into the situation, we can see the real us then. In fact, Akshay’s character is depicted as a disconcerted Indian who considers himself a Kuwaiti in the beginning of the movie, but he also mentions elsewhere in the movie, “Aadmi ki fitrat hi aisi hoti hai…Jab chot lagti hai aadmi maamaa hi chillata hai”.

Bhaskar Gandavabi
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