Film Review 'Neerja': A poignant tale

Film Review Neerja: A poignant tale

Neerja is a compelling movie backed by terrific performances, writes Deepa Gauri

By Deepa Gauri

Published: Fri 19 Feb 2016, 1:46 PM

Last updated: Fri 19 Feb 2016, 11:58 PM

Directed by Ram Madhvani
Starring: Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi
Now playing at theatres in the UAE
Rating: 4/5
In retelling the tale of Neerja Bhanot, the bold purser of the Pan Am flight hijacked in 1986, director Ram Madhvani brings an unusual sensitivity that is often lost in movies based on real-life based events. 
Bollywood was offered several flawed 'hijack' stories but Neerja's seamless focus on the protagonist than on venturing into the motives of the perpetuators makes perfect sense and impact. 
And that is where Madhvani deserves as a standing applause: For bringing out a multi-layered movie despite its uni-dimensional core. 
At the end of Neerja, you are rooting not just for this amazing brave young woman but also for her parents and siblings, her co-workers, the passengers and even the authorities in Pakistan (which makes it one firm reason for the country to lift the ban on the movie). 
Neerja is no doubt the career-best of Sonam Kapoor; while you might have wished for more in terms of insightful and inspired performances from her, she gives the character the desired 'arm's length' gravitas. To have given it any other interpretation or 'higher level of acting,' would have made upped the actress than the real-life hero in one's minds. After Neerja, the movie, the memory of Neerja, the young woman, only shines more. 
Allow Shabana Azmi, then, to steal the show; as Neerja's mother, she delivers a knock-out performance without stooping into melodrama. Perfect poise, absolute command, terrific modulation - Shabana gives Neerja an extra dimension. And full marks to Yogendra Tiku as Neerja's dad; he matches Shabana on every move; an exceptionally accomplished performance indeed. 
Madhvani gets tremendous support from the film's writer Saiwyn Quadras. Not one plot-point appears forced, and every scene has a logical flow - be it the anguish of the passengers, the helplessness of the cabin crew, the heart-breaking wait by Neerja's family on news of the hijack, the confusion among the hijackers or the way the children in the cast are presented (none of the usual precocious silliness here), one aspect another is stringed with total command over the medium. 
Neerja's strength is in how the film never resorts to emotional overloading of the viewers; it doesn't try to manipulate you either. The characters behave just as in life. 
Presenting the household of Neerja, bringing out the pain of her failed marriage, the silent support of her brothers, the moral fabric that her dad instils in her, and the fort of love built by her mother, the girl - full of life and cheer - just walks into death, in a final bid to save three children. 
Amidst all the confusion of the hijack drama, she finds solace in her dad's words, a letter from a young man who has entered her life, and in the love of her mother. The throwbacks on her life are seamlessly integrated into the narrative by the film's editor Monisha R Baldawa. 
You might slightly get impatient through the second half of Neerja, but then, we are talking of a movie that captures the 15 odd hours of agonising wait into two hours. Nothing really happened through those hours in real-life other than the intelligent yet life-defining moves by Neerja. In hindsight, we see the dramatic value of her un-dramatic acts. And that is why Neerja is not an easy movie to watch. It disturbs you, while watching, and after. 
On final call, you realise after watching Neerja that often good-byes come with none of the dramatic fuss. You leave the world just like that; what matters is whether you lived it big, doing your duty, no matter what.

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