Had she lived, she would have been just a year older than me. At 22, I don’t think I absorbed the tragedy of the Pan Am hijack, but watching the film last night was an immensely moving experience that brought home the play of destiny in our lives.
Perhaps it was director Ram Madhvani’s deft professionalism, honed over years in the ad business that makes this film move at a slick though unforced pace. In making a film where everyone knows how it ends, the challenge is in showing how it happens. The action is perfectly executed, leaving the viewer on-the-edge of the chair for what happens next.
Hijack is a violent crime, but Madhvani’s film does not have gratuitous physical violence. There’s just enough to build up fear, and it relies much on the psychological build up.
Sonam Kapoor is a perfect match for the 23 year old Neerja, a brave and intelligent underside to the bubbly yet fragile girl. Destiny hands out strange cards, and it was Neerja’s destiny to overcome a personal setback and relaunch her life as a Purser on Pan Am, only to have it cut short. The short life was not lived in vain; she died saving hundreds of fellow passengers, as the several testimonials and awards proclaim. Thanks to her astonishing efforts, most of the passengers survived the attempted hijack of the Pan Am flight at Karachi on September 5 1986 by the Palestinians of the Abu Nidal Organisation .
Shabana Azmi has essayed a heartbreaking performance as Rama, Neerja’s mother, and it broke my heart. For a couple of minutes, I had to close my eyes, it hurt so bad to see the pain, evoking memories of aching loss. Harish, the father (Yogendra Tiku), raising his daughter to be fearless, was too close to home.
Rama says,”I didn’t raise my daughter brave- I raised to lower her eyes, to watch out for her personal safety. We turn to men for protection, not women. How did this girl become so brave and help others?” At the end of the movie, tears will flow, but so will a sense of warmth and renewed hope in humanity. There could be many Neerjas out there.
It will also make you less restless about the numerous security checks while flying, and well, just about everywhere.