By Tilusha Vyas, Asia Correspondent –
With news dominated by events unfolding in the Middle East on a daily basis, it is not surprising that even the Indian film industry popularly known as Bollywood could not resist an action-packed thriller based on the Gulf War. By now you must be thinking it must be the usual run-of-the-mill Bollywood genre love story – with rendering songs and dances by the action-packed hero wooing his heroine to denote their undying love for each other in some hot deserts in some war zone areas with a happy ending. Nope. Nothing of the sort this time.
Airlift, which was released in the cinemas last week, is an outstanding and a very unusual, fact-based, real-life movie which truly deserves praise. It is based on true historical events which took place during the Gulf War in 1990 when the late Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. What we witnessed on our television screens at the time were the horrors and the destruction of the country by Iraqi soldiers who killed countless Kuwaitis, looted their properties and destroyed their livelihoods which the world at large witnessed and grieved about. Unfortunately, very little if any mention was made about the plight of the Indian foreigners many of whom also lost their lives in Kuwait back in 1990.
Nevertheless, a huge number survived – some 170,000 Indians remained stuck there penniless, in a state of misery and helplessness, seeking refuge and safety. After various attempts, they managed to escape to India. Although this event was entered into the World Guinness Book of Records as the largest ever human evacuation in history of some 170,000 people which took 488 Air India planes and 59 days to fly them safely to India, sadly their story may have been lost in the sands of history forever had it not been brought to life by this movie Airlift.
Not giving the plot away much, life changes overnight as Iraqi soldiers go on a rampage, killing Kuwaitis and gunning down all those who oppose them. The first few scenes that show the destruction and brutality of the Iraqi soldiers are without a doubt very persuasive and gritty. The scenes filmed in Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate which was dressed up as the war-torn Kuwait, hit home – giving that feeling of nervousness and fear just watching it. The director, Raja Krishna Menon, well known in the Indian Film Industry for making block buster movies, merits much praise for keeping it so real. Yours truly was just glued to her seat just watching the real life war actions which moved at a brisk pace in the first half of the film.
War is never pretty, with civilians being the biggest casualty, and director Raja Krishna Menon puts it across engagingly in Airlift. It’s a tale of 170,000 Indian expatriates caught in the Iraq-Kuwait conflict in 1990 and their struggle to safety. Although this movie has been compared by critics with the Oscar winning film Argo made in 2012 on the Iranian hostage crisis, there is no similarity between the two movies, refuted the director. “Whilst both share a common link on the evacuation of humans – it is only a similar genre but everything else is different.” “Our film is about a true story of an incident which took place in Kuwait and is about the single greatest achievement of independent India. Argo is not in that space. It’s like saying that every romantic film is the same or every thriller is the same,” said Menon at the press conference.