The incredible film on Pan Am airhostess Neerja Bhanot, who died while helping passengers escape from terrorists on the hijacked flight 73, is based in the year 1986, but the tragedy has greater resonance at a time when the slaying of innocents in the name of ideology has become an almost daily occurrence.Ram Madhvani’s movie, based on a screenplay by Mary Kom writer Saiwyn Quadras, focuses on the hours leading up to the attack and its immediate aftermath. The opening sequence inter-cuts between Neerja and her loving family in Mumbai on the night before she leaves for her assigned flight and members of the Abu Nidal Organisation preparing for the attack in Karachi. Neerja has overcome a violent marriage and returned to the family fold, and she has a job she loves, a boyfriend and several modelling assignments. When she gets on to the ill-fated flight, she is the very picture of victory against adversity. The film was about 22-year-old airhostess Neerja who transformed into a heroine after the terrorists hijack a plane. The filmmakers overcome the difficulty of not knowing what was going on inside the young woman’s head by inserting flashbacks to her troubled marriage and her father’s constant encouragement to be brave. As far as psychological motivations for Neerja’s actions go, this is all we get.Like the January release ‘Airlift’, Madhvani’s movie puts Neerja at the front of the action. She alone, among the entire crew, keeps her wits about her and tries to get a handle on an impossible situation. She tries to negotiate with the ill-prepared and increasingly hysterical hijackers, including a superb Jim Sarbh as a trigger-happy psychopath, comforts a mother whose son is plucked out of the crowd and executed, conceals the passports of the American passengers on board to prevent them from being used as bargaining chips and finally sacrifices herself to protect children from gunfire. In this ready-made story of valour, Neerja derived her courage by recalling the love her parents, Rama and Harish, had showered on her all her life.In this ready-made story of valour, Neerja derived her courage from the love her parents had showered on her all her life. Madhvani, an advertising filmmaker who made the psychological drama ‘Let’s Talk’ in 2002, is deeply respectful of Neerja’s story as well as the conventions of the hijack sub-genre.Madhvani, an advertising filmmaker who made the psychological drama ‘Let’s Talk’ in 2002, is deeply respectful of Neerja’s story as well as the conventions of the hijack sub-genre. All the elements are present in full throttle, including jittery hand-held camerawork, moments of sheer terror, glimpses of the vulnerable passengers and the efforts of authorities in Karachi to initiate a rescue. The portrayal of the Pakistanis as fumblers who potentially contribute to events is an unnecessary concession to nationalist sentiment, but the rest of the time, Neerja is about the individual and not the nation.Madhvani fulfils the brief of delivering a stirring and sensitive account of bravery at the risk of making the narrative predictable to a fault. Neerja is a taut tearjerker that aims for a lump in the throat rather than full-out bawling. The inter-cutting and inserts of flashbacks balance manipulation and realism. The sequence in which the Bhanots receive Neerja’s corpse is beautifully handled, in large part due to Azmi’s typically assured performance. The film rests on the fragile shoulders of Sonam Kapoor and she makes the best possible effort despite her limited abilities to convey Neerja’s terror and strength, which comes, as Rama later says, from some unknown place.Actress Sonam Kapoor’s babyish voice and coquettish mannerisms only highlight Neerja’s youth. The air hostess was two days short of turning 23 when she died. The movie based on her life accords her full respect, at the risk of sacrificing head for heart. Perhaps heroism is not so complex, after all. ‘Neerja’ is a 2016 Indian Hindi-language biographical thriller film directed by Ram Madhvani and written by Saiwyn Quadras and Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh. It was produced by Atul Kasbekar’s company Bling Unplugged, alongside Fox Star Studios. The film features Sonam Kapoor as the title character, with Shabana Azmi, Yogendra Tiku and Shekhar Ravjiani in supporting roles.The plot centres on the Libyan-backed Abu Nidal Organisation’s hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 5, 1986. The film is shown from the point of view of the flight’s head purser, Neerja Bhanot, who thwarted the hijack attempt by alerting the pilots, thus grounding the plane; Bhanot died trying to help save 359 of the 379 passengers and crew on board.Development began in September 2014, when Kasbekar signed Madhvani and Kapoor for a film to be made by Bling Unplugged and Fox Star Studios. Saiwyn Quadras and Sanyuktha Chawla worked on the script, with principal photography taking place in Mumbai. The film features music by Vishal Khurana, with lyrics written by Prasoon Joshi. Neerja was released on 19 February 2016 to positive critical reception, with praise directed to Kapoor’s performance, and became one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films featuring a female protagonist.The film received a number of accolades at Bollywood award organisations, with particular praise for Kapoor’s performance and Madhvani’s direction. It won two awards at the 64th National Film Awards including Best Feature Film in Hindi and Special Mention for Kapoor. At the 62nd Filmfare Awards, Neerja won six awards, including Best Film, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.Published in Daily Times, March 22nd 2019.