The Maha Mrutyunjay mantra serves as a prelude to the the song ‘Jeete Hai Chal’ and the pictures of real Neerja Bhanot span the entire screen to freeze your soul and make it contemplate the meaning of the mantra – “Aum. We worship the three-eyed lord who is fragrant and who nourishes and nurtures all the beings. As the ripened cucumber (with the intervention of the gardener) is freed from its bondage (to the creeper), may he liberate us from death for the sake of immortality.

My mother often told me this mantra could avoid the untimely death, but it’s only now I have come to realize that such a profound hymn couldn’t be just a shallow tool to ward off mere corporeal death of your body. It’s about freeing your ‘soul’ from the vicious circle of life & death and achieving Moksha – the ultimate state where you have neither desires nor fears. Humming this powerful mantra as a eulogy to the death of Neerja takes this movie to another level. It gives the whole story a new definition.

According to Wikipedia, Neerja Bhanot (7 September 1963 – 5 September 1986) was a purser for Pan Am, based in Mumbai, India, who was murdered while saving passengers from the terrorists on board who had hijacked the Pan Am Flight 73 on 5 September 1986. Posthumously, she became the youngest recipient of India’s highest peacetime military award for bravery, the Ashok Chakra.

This is the story that we all know, but Ram Madhwani’s movie ‘Neerja’ explores it even beyond that. Here Neerja comes across as a commoner, just like you and I – a girl with passion, compassion, fear, her own set of failures, and her own share of roaring dreams. A beautiful girl whose biggest asset was not (just) her beauty, but her commitment toward her duty and her incomparable presence-of-mind adorned with priceless bravery, even in an extreme situation like plane hijack.

Saiwyn Qadras and Sanyukta Shaikh, as the writers, definitely emerge as the stars, but it’s Ram who rocks like a superstar. As the director he effectively delivers, what I call, a 3-D directorial experience – a real-time experience of the events happening on the screen. This is why, when the plane is being highjacked on the screen,just like the flight passengers on the screen you too tightly clutch the hand-rests of your cinema-hall seats. Mitesh Mirchandani too, as the cinematographer, surprises you with the effortless ‘unfelt’ presence of the camera. There is an overwhelmingly huge scope to go on talking about the technical aspects of this film, but I would contain my excitement and re-direct it toward the equally awesome performances of the cast.

As the hardcore movie-loving audience you feel the real ‘performance related ecstasy’ when you get something that you didn’t expect or wasn’t counting on. Sonam, an actress who didn’t (or didn’t get to) shine through her performances in her movies so far, brings an unexpected exotic dish to your table – a balanced act. She performs, not through dialogues, but through mere silence, through eyes. Unarguably, this could be lauded as the best performance of her career. Every struggling (and sincere) actor gets an acting-epiphany at some point of his/her career – this was that point for Sonam. There is another performance related ecstasy, which you always anticipate, you unfailingly get, and although it doesn’t surprise you, it definitely brings a new zing every time. That’s ‘her highness’ Shabana Azmi. Her ‘absolute witchcraft’ turns her into Rama Bhanot and strokes the most sensitive part in your heart. A special mention should go to her monologue where she accepts that she, like any other mother, told her daughter that being selfish is just brilliant. The second half may seem a little longer to some (and may be a bit too emotionally exhausting), but trust me, this is a GREAT tribute to Neerja Bhanot, if not a perfect one. Also, Jim Sarbh deserves a special mention for his well crafted performance.

Few scenes need special mention too. For instance, the realisation scene of Neerja where she starts resuming her duties has turned out to be perfect, and the credit should go to Sonam. The conversation between mother and father and their consoling each other makes you do the ‘water-work’ like there is no tomorrow. Besides these, many other scenes, such as the flashbacks of Neerja’s married life or the use of house dog in many frames give an inexplicable beauty to the film. Hats off to Ram!

Make sure you go and watch Neerja’s story this week. It might change you… at least a bit.

Saurabh Bharat
Peak in:

Saurabh Bharat

Dentist turned Radio Jockey turned Social Activist turned New York Film Academy Graduate. Passion for telling stories in all possible forms. Writer and Editor.
Saurabh Bharat
Peak in: