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'Neerja:' The heroine of the hijack!

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Neerja, the film, is a biographical account of the PanAm air hostess, Neerja Bhanot. However, the disclaimer at the beginning of the film says it is not exactly so. To make this film would be a tricky challenge since Neerja’s image has become larger than life and her acts of valour have become part of legend.

Neerja sacrificed her life to save hundreds of other in the course of duty and she has since been decorated posthumously by India’s highest gallantry award, the Ashok Chakra, besides the Philatelic Department issuing a postage stamp in her honour. Neerja was also awarded by the Pakistan government and the US Justice Department. 

Neerja, played by Sonam Kapoor, was a daughter of the Bhanots, Harish and Rama, desperately wanted despite already having two sons. Her parents always imbibed the virtues of courage in their daughter, pampered equally by the parents as well as brothers. 

Neerja is married off in an arranged match and moves with her husband to the Gulf. However, the teachings did not help Neerja in this personal battle when her husband started ill-treating and taunting her for not brining dowry and also for her modelling. The marriage failed and she returned to be with her parents in Mumbai. 

Neerja then applied for a job with the American airliner, PanAm and was selected and later trained at Miami. She now has overcome the setback in her marriage, has a job, modelling assignments as well as a friend, Shekhar Ravjiani, who is keen to marry her. 

Neerja was on her first flight as a chief purser on a Mumbai-Frankfurt-New York flight. But, the plane makes an unscheduled stop at Karachi. Here, four Libyan terrorists, dressed in Pakistani security uniforms board the plane. Neerja senses trouble immediately and alerts the flying crew of three who escape from an overhead hatch in the cabin. This was so that the terrorists could not compel them to fly wherever they wished. 

What followed is what made Neerja a legend and earned her the title of ‘The heroine of the hijack.’ As the senior-most crew member on the flight, she takes charge, pacifies the passengers, communicates with the terrorists and goes on doing all she can to save the situation. 

The terrorists want the Pakistani authorities to find replacement pilots to fly out. As the hours pass, they want to set an example and kill passengers one by one. Their anger is on the Americans and ask Neerja and other hostesses to collect the passports of all the American passengers on board to identify and kill them to pressurise the Pakistanis. But, Neerja orders her subordinates not to collect American passports. Instead hide them under the seats or get rid of them through the rubbish chute.

The standoff lasts for over 17 hours when the aircraft battery life ends and the lights go off. The terrorists become frantic and, in desperation, start shooting blindly and chuck grenades in the plane. Neerja acts and opens the door as well as the emergency escape chute. Having done that, she could have been the first one to escape. Having helped all the passengers escape, it is when she is trying to help three unaccompanied children escape, that a terrorist shoots her.

Director Ram Madhvani has done a competent job ably helped by screenplay writer, Saiwyn Quadras, who has done well to merge Neerja’s marital troubles flashbacks with the hijack scenes. Hijack and terrorism scenes may have been seen many times but the human angle here gives the film much credence. The last part where Neerja opens the aircraft door and lowers the chute is the essence of the film and has solid emotional impact. 

For Sonam, getting into Neerja’s shoes is a tough task but she manages to get into the skin of the character as the film progresses. Shabana Azmi, Shekhar and Yogendra Tiku have brief parts but are convincing. Terrorists are sinister enough to make an impact.

Neerja has had a varied opening response at the box office but word of mouth is encouraging. It is such a film that needs to work.

Producers: Atul Kasbekar, Shanti Sivaram Maini

Director: Ram Madhvani

Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Shekhar Ravjiani, Yogendra Tiku

‘Direct Ishq:’ Also ran

Benaras has been attracting some filmmakers and writers to weave their stories in this holy city. It is not because of their love for the city or because of any religious leanings. When you want to pit a simple middle class girl against a gun-toting hero juxtaposed with another boy from the same city and similar background having made it big with hard work and honesty, you need a state with a reputation for lawlessness. Therefore it is not surprising that many such films are based in one such Hindi belt locale.

Direct Ishq is a love triangle in the traditional mode where two guys, a good one and a bad one, fall in love with same girl. The boys in this case are Rajneesh Duggal and Arjun Bijlani, while the girl is Nidhi Subbaiah.

Nidhi is a pretty and popular girl for the way she conducts herself, full of pep. But she knows her limits and keeps away from any sort of trouble from boys who try to woo her. Rajeev is a local college boy and the leader of the university students’ body. He believes that power comes from being tough. He is always ready to pick a fight and adds to his muscle by being armed with a gun. He is besotted with Nidhi but when it comes to girls, he is tongue tied. He can never make himself gather enough courage to tell her his feelings. 

Rajneesh enters the scene to complete the triangle. He is another Benaras lad who has got his education in Mumbai and now has his own event management company there. Nidhi is an aspiring singer who wants to make a name for herself and make her family proud. In this event, Rajneesh would be the right person to fulfil her aspirations. While helping her cause, he also falls in love with her.

The film provides scope for music as well as Benaras kind of action scenes. While nothing is new here, it being a musical also does not count for much as of innumerable songs, just a couple pass muster. Action is routine. 

Direct Ishq is another also ran.

Producers: Pradeep K Sharma

Director: Rajiv S Ruia

Cast: Rajneesh Duggal, Nidhi Subbaiah, Arjun Bijlani 

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