Starring: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Yogendra Tiku
Director: Ram Madhvani
Running Time: 122 mins
Neerja is an Indian film about the true story of the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73, and the flight attendant who put herself in the face of danger to thwart the terrorists’ plan and save her passengers.
Up there with United 93 as one of the most intense and immersive hijack movies ever made, Neerja is an exhilarating and terrifying watch throughout. Detailing a true story of devastating proportions, the film has you really on edge at its most intense moments, though it struggles to tell the emotional side of its story in equally gripping fashion.
As a biography of Neerja Bhanot, the flight attendant onboard Pan Am Flight 73, the film doesn’t have to limit itself purely to the events of the hijacking. Therefore, it’s less focused at first on throwing you into the intensity of the crisis in similar fashion to United 93 or 7500, but more so on introducing you to Neerja and letting you form an emotional connection with her.
Frustratingly, the film’s opening act fails to really endear you to her character in any remarkable way. While Sonam Kapoor is likeable in the role from the start, the screenplay really struggles to find a powerful dramatic point of interest in her back story, attempting to use a couple of events in her past that tenuously and awkwardly link to the day that would define her life.
As a person, the film portrays Neerja’s kind-hearted and caring attitude well, and Sonam Kapoor does well to make her a really wonderful lead throughout. But as far as developing a really strong emotional connection goes, this film doesn’t really achieve its goals in the early stages.
However, when the events on board Flight 73 do begin to unfold, the movie evolves quickly into a strikingly intense hijack thriller. With gritty, uncompromising violence and a fast, hectic pace, Neerja becomes an exhilarating watch filled with genuine terror as we watch the hijackers take control of the plane.
Immersive in its ability to put you in real fear of the terrorists, every second that ticks by as the perpetrators threaten the lives of the passengers in exchange for their demands is agonising, and the film never holds back in showing the most heartbreaking and frightening moments of the real-world events.
The hijacking is an action-packed affair, but Neerja never cheapens or overdramatises the reality of the situation by keeping the story focused on the fear of the passengers and staff on board, and the ever-growing tension between the terrorists themselves.
As a result, you’re always on edge as you wait for the next cruel twist of fate to inevitably come, making for a both thrilling and genuinely terrifying viewing experience.
As far as hijack thrillers go, Neerja may not be the most emotionally powerful film, but its ability to place you in the shoes of those onboard the plane and strike fear into your eyes with its use of violence and tension is incredible, and makes the film a hugely impressive and affecting watch. So, that’s why I’m giving Neerja a 7.7 overall.