It dispels all worries at the very outset, adopting a realistic tone and tenor and staying with it until the very end.
The extraordinary story of flight purser Neerja Bhanot’s exemplary sacrifice to save the lives of 350-odd passengers on a hijacked Pan Am aircraft in 1986 has been the stuff of legend for three decades. Piecing her tale of courage and commitment together for the big screen, scriptwriter Saiwyn Quadras weeds out all that is superfluous and focuses firmly on the essentials. Madhvani’s understated directorial style is augmented by Mitesh Mirchandani’s steady cinematography and Monisha Baldawa’s crisp editing.
The focus of the story is of course on Neerja (Sonam Kapoor), but also important to the graph of the central character are her mother (Shabana Azmi) and father (Yogendra Tiku), the two people who set her free to fly to unprecedented heights. Neerja is the story of a failed hijacking in which 20 innocent people lost their lives. But it is equally the story of a gritty woman who had the courage to not only rise above the limitations that her gender would have imposed on her in the 1980s, but also to bounce back from a very bad arranged marriage.
On the fateful day that she is driven to the airport in the wee hours of the morning, there is promise of a fresh beginning for her, thanks to her growing friendship with another man (Shekhar Ravjiani). Neerja is a celebration of a heroic life that makes the most of the emotional traction inherent in the true story. The decision of the director not to embellish it with gratuitous narrative flourishes is felicitous it only accentuates the power of the narrative. Neerja is, without an iota of doubt, a must watch.