Airlift Movie Review by Sputnik

Airlift Airlift is based on the the 1990 evacuation of 170000 Indians from Kuwait when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Ranjit Katiyal, who considers himself to be more Kuwaiti than a Indian has a sudden awakening of conscience when his driver is shot right in front of him. He starts to take care of not only his employees but also all the Indians living there. The rest of the movie is about his heroic mission to see that everyone is evacuated safely.

The movie’s end credits state that the fictional character of Ranjit Katyal is based on Mr. Mathunny Mathews and Mr. Vedi. There is not much information about Mr. Vedi. Mathunny Mathews’s daughter made a facebook post and shared the following picture.


There is a old 1981 New York Times article about how “For the last 25 years, Mathunny Mathews, from India’s southern state of Kerala, has lived here in Kuwait and has prospered as an automobile dealer.”

This post on Quora has a very good discussion on whether there was any real life hero or heroes who single handedly were responsible for the biggest civilian evacuation in history. A link from that Quora post has a very good interview with K.P. Fabian, former Ambassador of India to Qatar, to Finland and to Italy, who was head of the Gulf Division of the Ministry of External Affairs during the First Gulf War.

In that interview he mentions that “one Mr. K.T.B. Menon called me on 2 August, saying that if finances were the problem he would pay for the air passage of any Indian who wished to leave. “KTB” was the richest Indian in
Kuwait. His generosity touched us. He is no more and I do not know whether the Government honoured him for his gesture.”

Now coming to the actual movie some scenes are very good like the scene where Ranjit reaches his disheveled home with no sight of his wife and child or the scene where Ibrahim talks about his newly married wife missing or the scene where Nimrat Kaur’s character lashes out at the irritating George or the scene where Ranjit fools the Iraqi major. The best scene of the movie is the scene where Ranjit’s driver is shot.

There is one unnecessary stupid fight sequence where Ranjit decides to be a Bollywood hero and fights with the Iraqi soldiers. The movie just grates on the nerves every time Nimrat’s character or Prakash Belawadi’s character appears on screen. Prakash Belawadi plays a ungrateful constantly complaining character. One assumes that the character would change for the better after he gets lashed by Nimrat’s character but he is annoying right till the end.

There are some unnecessary drama sequences like the Iraqi army raid on their camp or the Air India pilots refusing to fly to Iraq. The politician is portrayed in the usual filmy way. Even in a serious movie like this there are some unnecessary songs as usual since its a Bollywood movie. For a movie named Airlift the movie hardly spends any time on the actual evacuation.

Akshay Kumar is very good as Ranjit Katyal. He is restrained and pretty much carries the whole movie. Nimrat Kaur is pathetic and very annoying as his wife except for one confrontational scene. Nimrat who had hardly any make up in The Lunchbox has overdone make up and hair styling no matter what the situation is in the movie. Her acting was very TV serialish. Inaamulhaq was good as the somewhat threatening Major Khalaf Bin Zayd. Purab Kohli was good as Ibrahim. Prakash Belawadi was very irritating in a completely unnecessary irritating character role. The rest of the cast was ok.

Raja Menon’s direction is good in parts and bad in parts. Its a very uneven film as a very good scene is then followed by a scene which is either irritating or very unsubtle. He tries to make Ranjit Katyal’s character messianic and we are constantly reminded about the great heroic thing he is doing lest we all forget it. The movie will probably be liked by the majority of the audiences but if one was expecting a great movie on such a great incident then they may end up getting disappointed. Anyway despite the flaws its a good movie worth a watch just for covering an almost forgotten historical incident if one keeps their expectations low.


1 Comment
  1. Author
    sputnik 7 years ago

    Ranjit Katyal did not Airlift me from Kuwait

    Actors Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur address a press conference to promote their movie ‘Airlift’ in New Delhi . ‘Airlift’ is based on the world’s biggest civil evacuation: that of Indians based in Kuwait during the Iraq-Kuwait war. (AFP)

    I was airlifted from Kuwait by the Indian government after the Saddam Hussein invasion in 1990, and my recollection of an eventful six weeks is nothing like the portrayal in the Akshay Kumar-starrer Airlift currently playing to full houses.

    The movie shows the Indian government as callous and incompetent. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, India won the everlasting gratitude of an impressionable kid by facilitating the evacuation, pulling strings with Saddam. To that extent, the patriotic chest-beating the film inspires on Gantantra Diwas is understandable; the problem is that the protagonist, businessman Ranjit Katyal, gets all the credit.

    I went to see Airlift expecting to relive an important and exciting incident in my life. After all, when then Iraq President Saddam Hussein decided to flex his muscles, I was a school-going kid in Kuwait. For weeks after the invasion my family and I lived in a country that didn’t have a functioning government and where Iraqi teenagers in army fatigues roamed the streets with machine guns.

    We were packed into buses that snaked through desert roads and stayed in refugee camps in a ‘No-Man’s Land’ – a stretch of desert between Iraq and Jordan. In Airlift, I hoped to relate to such scenes and say ‘Yes, I remember this incident’ or ‘This is what we went through’. But, now, after surviving the movie, I understand the importance of the disclaimer: ‘All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental’.

    Kumar plays Katyal, who, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait purportedly helps the safe passage about 1.70 lakh Indians (plus a Kuwaiti and her daughter) from Kuwait to Mumbai (then Bombay) via Iraq and Jordan. Kumar’s character, the filmmakers acknowledge, is inspired by the lives of two Indian businessmen (Sunny Mathews and HS Vedi) who played an instrumental role in the evacuation.

    Director Raja Krishna Menon’s depiction of Katyal being this Moses-like figure leading all Indians through the desert in 10 buses and 15 cars is just one of the many liberties he has taken with facts. There is no way 1.70 lakh Indians could have been pulled out of Kuwait at one go. The evacuation took place over weeks and I remember friends leaving before and after I left Kuwait. Going by some estimates the figure of 1.70 lakh Indians is also exaggerated — reports peg the number at around 1.20 lakh.

    Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. It was a Thursday and a school holiday – we didn’t know it then, but that was effectively the end of the school year. We could no longer cycle through the empty parking lots and souks, nor play football in the ground adjacent to our apartment. We also stopped going to the beach – news had spread that Saddam’s boys had mined the beaches. But life for the elders in the family was as usual: They drove cars and went to work. Thanks to good India-Iraq ties, cars driven by Indians were not stopped – unless it was a top-end one with serious bling on it that caught the fancy of an Iraqi child soldier. There was a shortage of food, but here again, Indians were allowed to travel and buy food from wherever they could find it.

    On September 19 or 20 we left Kuwait on a bus to Basrah in Iraq, where we halted for a few hours at night. From there we went to Baghdad where we changed buses. Our next halt was for a night in a camp in the middle of the desert. A sandstorm hit the camp that night, covering everything in its path, including tents and buses, under layers of sand. The following morning we went to the ‘No-Man’s Land’ and for the next 10 days, tent number A-87 was home. The United Nations provided us sheets and blankets (nights in the desert can get very cold). The UN also distributed food from trucks and the Red Cross/Red Crescent set up medical tents. From there we left for Amman and it was after spending a day in the queue that we got tickets for Mumbai.

    The trouble I have with Airlift is not so much that the evacuation story it has told is different from mine, but that in its bending of facts, it is recreating an incident to its convenience. In other words, the filmmakers are ‘creating history’. In its dramatisation of events to suit the grammar of a screenplay certain incidents have been magnified and New Delhi has been unjustly vilified.
    Airlift cunningly taps into the general resentment towards Indian politicians and bureaucrats. It is dismissive of New Delhi’s efforts to ensure the safe passage of Indians from Kuwait. But the fact remains that the then foreign minister IK Gujral met Saddam himself to negotiate the rescue, even if he was broadly panned for his pains – a photograph showing the two in an embrace quickly became infamous.

    A film like Airlift is an example of what happens when governments fail to communicate their achievements and leave filmmakers to be the sole shapers of public opinion around a dramatic historic event.

    However, in a nation where it is increasingly becoming necessary to wear your patriotism on your sleeve, Airlift has the right dose of desbhakti-inducing scenes and flag waving to excite you. It’s a pity about the details.


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