Neerja: Film Review
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Parth Akerkar, Shabana Azmi
Director: Ram Madhvani
The greatest crime of Neerja, the film that's already been a hit on the New Zealand Bollywood circuit, is that you choose not to see it because it's a Bollywood film.
In truth, while the DNA of this gripping portrayal of Pan Am purser Neerja Bhanot, who was the youngest person ever given India's highest order of bravery, shares some similarities with a Bollywood film (there's dancing at the start at a family celebration and a love story within), it's anything but a traditional perception of a Bollywood film, and puts itself in a similar category with Paul Greengrass' United 93.
It's the story of Neerja (Kapoor), whose Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked on the ground at Karachi Airport in September 1986 by terrorists who wanted their captive brothers freed. With over 370 passengers and crew on board, Neerja found herself in the eye of a storm and found strength when it was needed most.
Utterly gripping and compelling, the biographical drama Neerja is single-handedly one of the most sickening and inspiring films ever witnessed.
Shorn of the usual trappings of the genre (light colours, the film's palette is soaked in murky yellows and looks like it was shot as part of a 24 spin-off series that never happened), the film's simplicity and sickening suspense come from slick story-telling and an entirely open performance from its lead.
Inter-cut with flashbacks to Neerja's first failed marriage at the hands of a bully, this is essentially the ages old tale of an abused victim finding her inner strength when it matters most and exuding humanity when man does its worst.
The only minor mis-step is the portrayal of the passing of time during portions of the hijack, with no real idea how much time's gone at a crucial juncture. But this is the briefest of flaws in an otherwise incredible cinematic experience.
Granted, there is sentiment in the briefest of some of the early scenes (Neerja's mother fretting because the ring she gifted her daughter for safety in the air has gone missing, Neerja's burgeoning relationship with the love she should have had, Jaideep), but what transpires when the plane is over-run is nothing short of gut-wrenchingly sickening as well as incredibly taut and powerful.
While Madhvani masterfully ratchets up the tension to edge-of-your-seat levels, it's Kapoor who grounds the film and keeps you invested from beginning to end. Her performance is entirely plausible, entirely unshowy and ultimately inspiring, given how the real life Neerja rose up to the terror of the situation.
Shot simply and with a veneer that's better than some Hollywood blockbusters, Neerja is completely unmissable. A gripping drama that makes good on its central tenet (Neerja's constantly told to live a life that's big not long), it would be nothing short of a crime to dismiss Neerja.