Neerja will break you heart and leave you with endless tears streaming down your cheeks. While I was fixing my smudged kohl in the washroom of PVR Juhu after watching the press show of this film, I realized there was also a subdued smile on my face. At first, I couldn’t quite pinpoint what caused the latter. Then it dawned upon me. “Pushpa, I hate tears,” were the parting words of a 22-year old, who lost her life while saving the lives of hundreds of others.
Ashok Chakra awardee Neerja Bhanot was a Rajesh Khanna fan and hence, she chose to quote the superstar’s dialogue while leaving a message for her mother right before breathing her last. Sonam Kapoor portrays the character of this braveheart very realistically and leaves an impact with her flawless performance. She has always been known to be Bollywood’s fashionista and her acting skills have never really been the central talking point of her career. But things will certainly change now. Neerja unarguably marks Sonam’s finest performance till date.
Director Ram Madhvani should be definitely credited for extracting this kind of performance from the actress. While Madhvani has previously directed several acclaimed short films, documentaries and ads, Neerja happens to be his directorial debut in mainstream cinema. And his work definitely explains why his resume already boasts of several awards. What is commendable is that his compelling storytelling never lets you feel like you are watching a film, you actually find yourself seated alongside 361 passengers and 19 crew members witnessing a horrifying terror attack.
The movie starts with a sequence where Neerja and her parents (played by Shabana Azmi and Yogendra Tiku) are seen in a celebratory mode. It is followed by a few scenes where you can see Neerja’s endearing rapport with her two brothers, mom, dad and her special someone, Jaideep (Shekhar Ravjiani). Mind you, each of these characters are as real as you are and all the respective actors have played their roles beautifully. “Magazine wapis aake padegi toh mar nahin jayegi,” says her brother nonchalantly while teasing her and refusing to give her a magazine. That and the mother-daughter moments between Shabanaji and Sonam will leave you teary-eyed as everyone knows how things panned out for her post that night.
Everything picks up pace as soon as Neerja reaches the airport to serve her duty of a senior flight crew member at Pan Am 73 heading to New York via Karachi. After giving a warm hug to Jaideep and taking her birthday present from him in advance, she boards the flight. Though Shekhar’s role is minuscule, the music-director delivers a performance that makes you wonder why he didn’t take up acting much earlier.
After landing in Karachi, the flight gets hijacked by a bunch of terrorists. Neerja braves the attack like a true hero and saves the lives of many passengers. I don’t want to divulge more details about the movie because this is a story that deserves to by known by all. The screenplay by Saiwyn Quadras is extremely gripping, the dialogues by Saiwyn along with Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh and Mitesh Mirchandani‘s cinematography keep the movie’s realistic appeal intact. Vishal Khurana‘s music lends support to this gut-wrenching tale.
Neerja’s mother’s monologue in the end is bound to make you weep uncontrollably. Shabanaji delivers a heart-touching performance that stays with you. But of course, it is Sonam as Neerja, who leaves an everlasting impact.
‘Zindagi badi honi chahiye lambi nahin, Babumoshai,’ says Neerja every now and then, quoting her favourite hero’s dialogue from Anand. And that’s the message that the film essentially gives you.
So please book your tickets and watch Neerja ASAP.