was a time when flying was a glamorous business. Neerja Bhanot brought a little
of that back. The part time fashion model was also a flight hostess for Pan Am
Airways. Tragically, her first flight as the head purser of her Bombay-based
crew was Pan Am 73. Its ultimate destination was New York’s JFK, but so-called “Palestinians”
in the Abu Nidal Organization hijacked the plane during its Karachi layover.
Thanks to Bhanot’s quick thinking, the terrorists would go no further, but that
placed her even more in harm’s way. Bhanot’s courageous story is stirringly
dramatized in Ram Madhvani’s Neerja (trailer here), which is now playing in New York.
from the opening scene, can see Bhanot is the life of the party, as her friends
and family wait for her to arrive and inject some vigor into their snoozy
get-together. Even though she had made inroads into the glamorous world of modeling,
she still loved her job as a flight hostess. Life was pleasant for Bhanot, but
it was not always so. During her brief arranged marriage to Kishore Mishra, she
was constantly abused, both physically and emotionally. However, surviving his torments
gave her strength and insight for dealing with the Abu Nidal terrorists.
in stolen uniforms, the would-be hijackers shot their way on-board during the
stopover in Karachi. However, Bhanot was able to alert the flight crew, who
duly followed procedure, evacuating through the cockpit emergency hatch. Being
stuck on the ground drastically changed the nature of the operation for the
Islamist hijackers. Hoping to regain some leverage, the terrorists instructed
Neerja to collect all passports so they could identify Americans. Again, Bhanot
foiled their schemes, instructing her crew to hide all American passports.
There were forty-one Americans on that flight but only two were murdered.
is pretty inspiring to watch Bhanot stand-up to the so-called “Palestinian”
mass murderers and strategically think two or three steps ahead of them.
Madhvani’s cross-cutting between the hijacking and Mishra’s misogynistic
cruelty runs the risk of heavy-handedness, but it establishes how she found the
resolution and presence-of-mind to undercut the hijacking and hostage
executions. Nevertheless, at the risk of being spoilery, those who are not
familiar with Bhanot’s story should not expect a happily-ever-after conclusion.
fact, Madhvani rather viscerally captures a sense of the horror and chaos when
the “Palestinian” terrorists open fire on the passengers. He also shows in no
uncertain terms what Islamists do best: hit women and point guns at young children.
You really start to understand the realities of terrorism in Neerja, up-close and personal. Yet,
thanks to Bhanot, there were only twenty fatalities out three hundred sixty-one
passengers and a crew of twenty.
Kapoor not only looks a lot like the historical Bhanot. She also projects the
necessary courage, grace, and dignity. She is no martyr caricature. Kapoor’s
Bhanot often has to fight off panic and re-summon her courage. It is a forceful
but down to earth performance that emphasizes her empathy and resilience,
showing us just what a fighter Bhanot was.
Neerja is definitely the
sort of film that will choke up viewers, but when the lights go up and you
start to think about what happened on Pan Am 73, it will make you mad. When you
watch the national rage expressed in Kabir Khan’s Phantom, it is hard to blame India for resenting America’s refusal
to extradite Mubai 2008 terrorist David Headley. Yet, what can they expect when
they responded to the 1986 hijacking by officially recognizing the supposed
state of Palestine and continuing to send aid to the terrorist-dominated
Authority? That’s really showing the hijackers. At least there has been some
tilting towards the democratic state of Israel following the 2008 Mumbai
puts an acutely human face on the issue of terrorism. Kapoor does
awards-caliber work, as does Anna Ipe & Apparna Sud’s production design
team, which convincingly recreates the era’s analog airliner and retro-eighties
trappings. Madhvani is not shy when it comes to manipulating viewers, but he
keeps them focused like a laser beam, ever if they know how it all must end.
Highly recommended, Neerja is now
playing in New York at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Hijacking films, Hindi Cinema, Indian Cinema, Neerja Bhanot, Terrorism in film