I just thought to myself – When was the last time I wrote about an Akshay Kumar flick? Well… never! How many times in the past 10-15 years have I watched a film of his in theatre? Thrice.

This pattern has nothing to do with my perception of his histrionic abilities. From whatever old and new films I have watched of him, it’s pretty clear that Akshay, indeed, is a competent actor. That emotional outburst in Hera Pheri will vouch for that. His breezy presence in that dud of a melodrama called Dhadkan will confirm this. He could come out unscathed from a grotesque Tashan and a disturbingly regressive Kambakkht Ishq.

Earlier I never really cared about what kind of films he was upto. The mindset was, “By chance if it’s good, I’ll watch it on television!”. Then came this interesting association with Neeraj Pandey, T-Series and the likes! I wouldn’t dare call this move ‘offbeat’ like those archaic trade portals who believe box office collections could only be generated from ‘maar-dhaad’! Special 26, Baby and now, Airlift! Three quality films, that won our hearts and also raked in decent moolah.

Oh, let me tell you about ‘Airlift’, which is full of Malayali characters. The background gabs in Malayalam instantly called for a smile. How can a Gulf tale be complete without them (or us?). This film’s most striking supporting character (played with aplomb by Prakash Belawadi) is that of a bitter, cynic (but, of course) Malayali man.

The film opens minus any thunder as the characters are introduced rather lazily. An unnecessary song and maybe a couple of scenes later, we have this news of Iraq invading Kuwait. There begins the tumultuous journey of Ranjit Katyal (played by a gold-standard Akshay Kumar). From someone who had nothing but irreverence for his homeland, Ranjit’s transformation to a compassionate patriot was brought out remarkably. Kudos to Raja Krishna Menon for not making him yet another archetypal hero. Able support is lent by the luminous Nimrat Kaur, who’s clearly got her goods. This could’ve been yet another bummer like the wife character in Kumar’s last thriller flick, Baby! But Kaur makes sure to stand on her feet.

Having said that, the film has an array of interesting characters. A Muslim guy who lost his wife (a competent Purab Kohli), a Kuwaiti woman (Feryna Wazheir) he feels protective about, a compassionate Indian government official (Kumud Mishra, in a remarkable turn), a Hindi speaking Iraqi general (Inam-ul-Haq) and many more. All of them lend dimension and versatility to the plot which could have been just another tale of a hero rescuing his people. The hero, on his part, doesn’t get too many heroic moments. Even the fight scene towards the end is barely choreographed.

Giving it on the faces of sexist industrywallas is Priya Seth with her * incredible * cinematography. The pacing is so deft that you will refuse to munch the popcorn you’ve in your mouth. Well! Dialogues are sharp here and there, without going overboard on the patriotism bit. Songs, other than the smooth “Soch Na Sake”, could’ve been avoided.

All said and done, minor flaws and hiccups are forgiven as long as the film is as enthralling as this. Director Raja Krishna Menon makes a thunderous impact with his diligent handling of a complex and sensitive subject. Right from the way he’s visualized his frames or how he balances the odds as a writer, Menon is remarkable. And by the way, I still can’t get over the moment I felt like a war refugee while rushing to the loo during intermission! Haha…

Image Courtesy: T-Series, Hari Om Bhatia Productions, Viacom18 and a lengthy list of other producers! (A good collaborative effort, nevertheless!)