Monday, May 2, 2016

Neerja by Ram Madhvani

India (Hindi, English, Arabic), 2016
122 min, thriller, biography
Directed by Ram Madhvani
Starring Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi

On September 5th, 1986, Palestinian terrorists hijack Pan Am flight 73 while it waits on the tarmac at the Karachi airport. The head purser of the flight, Neerja Bhanot, tries to keep the passengers safe by negotiating with the terrorists and trying to outwit them. Based on a true story, this movie depicts how Neerja became an international hero by saving the lives of most of the passengers and crew, while dying herself.  Meanwhile, we see the emotional fallout at home of knowing that your daughter, sister, or girlfriend is in mortal danger – and there’s nothing you can do to help her.

While this could have easily become melodramatic, the powerful performances of Sonam Kapoor as Neerja and Shabana Azmi as Neerja’s mother imbue this film with the right mix of tension, fear, and bravery to make it one of the most lifelike and emotionally complex films I have ever seen. I think this is the only movie that has left me bawling in my seat at the movie theater, and I daresay you will have a similar experience.

Neerja’s history of abuse

While it doesn’t go into great detail, the movie does explore Neerja’s history of surviving intimate partner violence. After having an arranged marriage, she is taken to Oman by her husband, who proceeds to verbally and emotionally abuse her – finally escalating into physical violence. Part of this abuse is letters sent to her father demanding that he give more money for her dowry.  When Neerja escapes from this terrible situation and returns to her parents’ house, she has to deal with the social and familial censure of her actions. As a woman, she should have been able to accept and adjust to any situation, or so the logic goes. Neerja bravely perseveres in doing what is right for her: getting a divorce, picking up her modeling career again, joining PanAm as a stewardess, and just generally creating a new life for herself.

Read the rest on The Asian Cinema Blog

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