Neerja Movie Review

Friday, February 19, 2016
When the makers announced a biopic based on the life of slain air hostess Neerja Bhanot starring Sonam Kapoor, there were suspicions. The lead actress in question is a fashionista, whose dressing sense makes more headlines than her acting laurels. But nine years after she debuted as a coy girl in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya, she has come of age. She might not be the best choice for a film like Neerja, but she will still make you root for her with her honesty and vulnerability. She bares her soul in this performance which any day, trumps over finesse.

It is half the battle won when you have a powerful story to tell. But the tough part about biopics is that it is difficult to make people care about a something that’s so widely known. Who hasn’t heard about the hero of the Pan Am Flight 73 hijack who was posthumously awarded honours? But Ram Madhvani takes on the challenge of retelling Neerja’s story with a fresh perspective, unperturbed by what has already been documented on her. Instead of weaving the narrative on the lines of how a valiant flight attendant sacrificed herself on the line of duty, he makes Neerja a regular girl, who was crushed by her heartbreak, who blossomed in the love of the new man in her life. Her spirit is what the story stays focused on. When you watch the film, it is easy to see where Neerja got her guts from. As her past and present pan out simultaneously in the film, we can notice how well writer Saiwyn Quadras have gauged the woman’s psyche and brought it out in the screenplay. Neerja derives her courage from her own personal experiences and the screenplay tells exactly how she manages to brave the terrorists single-handedly without succumbing to their demands. Lamentably, she succumbed to her physical wounds. The celebration of her indomitable spirit that pushed her to do the unimaginable is what gives the film a strong footing.
As the movie paces up towards the gruelling 17 hours of hijack, Ram maintains grip for most part. There is the adequate amount of tension with a commendable lack of Bollywood ornamentation, which could have run down the effort. The screenplay is tight and as the director sticks religiously to the written word, the movie meanders very little. For every minute inside the aircraft, the vibe of the film is strained. The terrorists (though we are told almost nothing about their intention, their cause and what drives their blood-thirsty ruthlessness) look as menacing as their part adding the right amount of macabre to the screenplay. It might seem a little overdramatized in places but the impact is spot-on. Luckily, the film stays low on its gore factor, leaving a lot of the brutality to our imagination (thankfully *sigh*).
The curse of the second half strikes at it due time but doesn’t hit that hard. Yes, the grip loosens, the momentum dips but just then Ram plays his best card. He shifts focus to Neerja’s family, her parents, her lover, her ex-husband, all of which works well for the plot. Shabana Azmi, who plays Neerja’s mother, is in her understated best as she takes the viewer through their middle class household of simple hopes, joys and laughs. The film’s best scene comes from her as she talks about how much she misses her daughter. That is at one place Sonam’s heartfelt portrayal seems lackluster. Her sincerity is admirable but the true power of acting cannot be compensated for.
In a film that has some solid acting, a heartwrenching story, a nuanced screenplay and a hero worth celebrating, what wins? To each, their own. For us it was the grit in the plot that never sees a low moment. As the chase to the superlative climax begins, you’ll find your hearts palpitating despite knowing how it is going to end. Team Neerja deserves a pat on their back for recreating a celebrated story with aplomb.
Neerja has a haunting impact. You are terrorized, you are heartbroken, you are overwhelmed but mostly you are deeply influenced by her strength and courage. More than anything else, Neerja is inspiring. Everyone will find their own takeaway from the movie but we can say that for Sonam Kapoor, this will be a red-letter day… the day she proved her critics wrong. Those who wrote her off as a non-actor will sit and notice this sublime act of hers. The actor Sonam Kapoor has arrived. She might not be top notch yet but just like Neerja, she will give every role a tough fight! 
We rate the film at 66% 

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