5 Indian aviation films that you must not miss
These films are the Indian equivalents to a 'Sully' or 'Con Air' and are no pushovers
Aviation as a genre has been pretty underutilised by the Indian film fraternity, but some of the films that have actually been made are definitely worth a watch. There are indeed Indian aviation films that have succeeded to hold the viewers' attention. There have been films reliving horrific plane hijackings, dramatic repatriations, albeit with liberal doses of dramatisation thrown in, as is 'normal' in Indian cinema. A legendary aviation entrepreneur figures in the mix too, with a major regional film drawing inspiration from his life story. There have been works of fiction too.
Here are 5 Indian aviation films that have been worth their weight in salt:
1. Neerja (2016)
This critically-acclaimed film takes the viewers through one of the most spine-chilling hijackings in aviation history -- that of Pan Am Flight 73 on September 5, 1986. Starring Sonam Kapoor in the lead role and Shabana Azmi and Shekhar Ravjiani in supporting roles, and directed by Ram Madhvani, this film traces the story of the flight's head purser Neerja Bhanot, who gave her life to save the passengers. It is widely held that but for her courage and presence of mind, the situation could have been much worse than it actually was.
Twenty-two-year-old Bhanot insists on keeping her job as a flight attendant though her mother is against it. She is driven to the airport by her friend Jaideep. During the flight, she reflects on her failed marriage with Naresh, a professional in Doha. She remembers the abuse she had to face over dowry and her 'lack' of domestic skills. She had left Naresh and returned home and later went on to join Pan Am Airways of the US.
The Boeing 747 en route from Mumbai to New York that Bhanot is flying in is hijacked by members of the Abu Nidal Organisation, a Libyan-sponsored Palestinian terrorist group. Bhanot quickly alerts the cockpit crew by using the hijack code, which allows the American pilots to escape and thus ground the plane.
The hijackers are getting more and more agitated and start killing people. The negotiators lose control of the situation. Meanwhile, Bhanot, who has her birthday two days later, opens an envelope given to her by Jaideep, which is his love confession. It also has a cookie. Bhanot eats it to symbolise her acceptance of Jaideep's love.
The hijacking drags on and around 17 hours later, the plane starts losing auxiliary power. The hijackers mistake it as a plot to corner them and the precursor to a commando raid. They panic and open indiscriminate fire.
Bhanot opens the emergency exit and deploys the chute, choosing to help the passengers to escape first. She is shot fatally while trying to shield three children. She drags herself down the emergency slide before dying. Sadly, her lover never knows that she had accepted his love proposal. The film has edge-of-the-seat drama and leaves a lump in the throat in the end.
The film ends with a rich tribute to Bhanot, who was posthumously conferred India's highest military award -- the Ashok Chakra. The film won many awards and became one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films featuring a female protagonist.
2. Airlift (2016)
This film has contextual significance in the present time when India had undertaken a massive exercise called the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) to repatriate its citizens stuck in foreign countries during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Directed by Raja Krishna Menon, Airlift stars Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur. It grossed over Rs 2 billion in global markets and won many awards.
The film is set against the backdrop of India's mega repatriation of its citizens from Kuwait in 1990 after Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait that led to the First Gulf War. Air India, with the support of the Indian Air Force (IAF), helped to evacuate an estimated 1.7 lakh people from the strife-torn country, making it India's biggest repatriation exercise till the VBM came about.
The film centres around Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar), a Kuwait-based businessman, who hates India as he believes that India had never done anything for its people, and prefers to call himself a Kuwaiti.
After a night of partying, Katyal wakes up to a phone call by his friend that negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait had broken down and Iraqi troops had invaded Kuwait. Katyal and his driver make their way to the Indian embassy in an attempt to take their family and flee Kuwait.
However, Katyal's driver is killed by the Iraqi army. Katyal receives help from an acquaintance in the Iraqi Republican Guard, who ensures the safety of Katyal and his family.
Meanwhile, Katyal learns that the Kuwaiti government had fled into exile and around 1.7 lakh Indians were stranded.
The story then moves to how Katyal used his connections to organise the evacuation of the stranded Indians. He persuades a top-ranking bureaucrat in the Indian foreign ministry to get national carrier Air India to lead the evacuation mission and the Indian embassy in Jordan to issue permits.
Katyal reaches Jordan from where Air India and Indian Airlines planes were to take the refugees home. The thankful Indians salute Katyal, who feels remorseful for having disowned India for so long and vows not to do it again. He acknowledges that he was wrong to think that India did not help its people in need.
3. Rang de Basanti (2006)
Without a doubt, the biggest name on the list, this film boasts of megastar Aamir Khan and frontline actors R Madhavan, Kunal Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan, Kirron Kher, Om Puri, Anupam Kher and Sharman Joshi, as well as the legendary Waheeda Rehman. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, this film won the National Film Award for Best Popular Film and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 BAFTA Awards. It was chosen as India's official entry for the Golden Globe Awards and the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
A British student Sue McKinley arrives in India to make a film on the lives of India's great revolutionaries Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil. Sue searches for actors with the help of her friend Sonia (Soha Ali Khan). She zeroes in on Sonia's friends Daljit 'DJ' (Amir Khan), Karan (Siddharth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) and Aslam (Kunal Kapoor). They are, however, uninterested in working on a patriotic film. Tensions rise when Sue casts the boys' rival Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni), a right-wing party activist, as Bismil. However, they get along.
The lives of the characters change dramatically when their friend and Sonia's fiance Ajay Singh Rathod (Madhavan), a flight lieutenant in the IAF, is killed when his MiG-21 crashes. The government attributes the crash to pilot error and closes the case. DJ and his friends, however, are not willing to accept this as they know Ajay to be a skilled pilot who would have died while steering the plane away from populous neighbourhoods.
They come to know that defence minister Shastri (Mohan Agashe) had signed a contract to import cheap parts for the ill-fated MiG-21 in return for a personal favour. What's worse, Karan's father Rajnath Singhania (Anupam Kher) was part of the corrupt deal.
DJ and his friends refuse to take this corruption lying down. They hold a peaceful protest at India Gate in New Delhi but are brutally dispersed by the police. Ajay's mother (Waheeda Rehman) goes into a coma following the police assault. DJ and company then decide to take things into their own hands. Laxman learns that his father, a party official, had ordered the police to stop the India Gate protest and becomes disillusioned with his party. Inspired by the revolutionaries, DJ and his friends kill defence minister Shastri, while Karan kills his father.
The media reports that the minister was killed in a terrorist attack and hails him as a martyr. DJ and Co decide to publicly clarify the motive behind the assassination and take over the Air India Radio station. Karan goes on air to tell the world about the minister's corruption. The police arrive to take the group out and they are killed one by one. The news of their death creates a wave of protest against the Indian government.
The film was seen as a major protest against official corruption and the disillusionment among the youth of the country over this. It was also a protest against successive government's unwillingness to dispense with the MiG planes, called 'flying coffins' due to their susceptibility to accidents and crashes.
4. Hawaizaada (2015)
This Ayushmann Khurrana and Mithun Chakraborty starrer is a fictional story of the making of an indigenous flying machine set in the British era.
Shivi (Ayushmann Khurrana) is in love with a local stage dancer named Sitara (Pallavi Sharda). When Shivi's father comes to know about this, he turns him out of the house. Shivi then comes in contact with an eccentric scientist Pandit Subbaraya Shastri, played by Chakraborty.
Shastri, who is constantly being chased by the British for his weird experiments, is secretly building a flying machine. Seeing Shivi's great knowledge of the Vedas, Shastri shares with him a secret book of ancient Indian aeronautics. Shivi, however, declines the offer to be Shastri's assistant.
Sitara, meanwhile, rejects Shivi's marriage proposal and goes away. The crestfallen Shivi agrees to be Shastri's assistant. After many failed attempts, they finally build a small aircraft that, however, crashes within a few seconds of its maiden test flight.
Sitara is meanwhile back in Mumbai and living in poverty. Shivi sells Shasri's secret book to a British officer to pull Sitara out of poverty.
Shastri comes to know of this and dies of shock. Shivi feels so guilty that he vows to fulfil Shastri's dream of making an aeroplane.
Shivi visits the guru that Shastri kept referring to. The guru gives Shivi a code that helps him figure out that mercury was the best fuel for the aircraft. But before Shivi can build the plane, he is arrested by the British. He is, however, rescued by a freedom fighter and he finally makes the aircraft and flies away with Sitara before the British could arrest him again.
Full of twists and turns, this film makes for some wholesome family entertainment.
5. Soorarai Pottru (2020)
This Tamil film, directed by Sudha Kongara and starring Suriya, Paresh Rawal and Aparna Balamurali, is loosely based on the life of GR Gopinath, who had revolutionised Indian aviation, making low-cost, no-frills air travel a reality during an era when air tickets were so costly that it was almost reserved for the rich. What we take for granted today was considered a luxury till Gopinath, a former Army official, founded Air Deccan in 2003.
According to an article in The Better India, soon Air Deccan claimed a 22% stake in the Indian aviation sector with a fleet of 60 planes flying to over 60 destinations and operating 350 flights a day. Air Deccan tickets were priced 50% lower than what others were offering. Apart from the no-frills approach, the highly innovative Gopinath sought to earn revenue through advertisements inside and outside the aircraft. His model was soon replicated and the IndiGos, SpiceJets and AirAsia Indias of today have been taking forward the baton. His venture, however, fizzled out in the face of competition and losses and he sold Air Deccan to Vijay Mallya in 2007.
The film is inspired by Gopinath's 2011 autobiography Simply Fly.
Soorarai Pottru tells the tale of Maara (Suriya), a former IAF captain, who dreams of starting a low-cost airline. He idolises Paresh Goswami, the owner of Jaz Airlines, but the latter, fearing competition, uses his influence to repeatedly put Maara off the track. Maara finally starts an airline and names it Deccan Air and sells tickets at railway stations and petrol pumps. However, Goswami continues to create roadblocks for Maara. The film depicts how Maara defeats all odds and becomes successful.
The film, however, wanders away from the real-life experiences of Gopinath at many points, as pointed out in a review in Swarajya magazine. For example, caste polemics is introduced where there ought to have been none. Also, the support Gopinath received from politicians across party lines has been kept under wraps.
The film was released digitally via Amazon Prime Video on November 12, 2020. Its theatrical release suffered due to post-production delays and the Covid-19 pandemic.