Tag Archives: Nimrat Kaur

Movie Review: Airlift (2016)

Airlift2 Stars (out of 4)

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The evacuation of 170,000 Indian citizens from Kuwait following Iraq’s 1990 invasion is an inspiring tale that deserves a far better movie than Airlift. Writer-director Raja Krishna Menon’s version of events is a snore.

One of the perks of translating a real-life event to the big screen is that one can eliminate all the boring bits and focus on the drama. Instead, Menon forces the audience to endure interminable scenes of characters talking on phones, sitting in meetings, or waiting in hallways for meetings to start. It’s maddening.

Menon uses his creative license to condense the various heroes of the real evacuation into one man (because it’s always one man in Bollywood): Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar). Ranjit’s character setup is pretty good. He’s quickly established as a hard-partying, unscrupulous businessman who encourages his Indian driver to embrace life as a Kuwaiti. Thus, we know that by the end of the film Ranjit will be a conscientious and generous Indian patriot.

Ranjit’s wife, Amrita (Nimrat Kaur), is almost always unhappy with her husband. When she’s not upset with his drinking, she’s mad that he’s putting the well-being of others ahead of her and their daughter. The role itself is not great, but Kaur is great in it. She’s head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast, with an authoritative voice that commands respect.

The invasion of Kuwait opens with a startling blast and a few grim executions, but the tension subsides almost immediately. Iraqi troops lackadaisically trash stores and homes, and one makes a vaguely rapey gesture at a woman. The general in charge threatens Ranjit so nonchalantly that Ranjit’s not entirely sure that he’s being threatened.

For the most part, the Indians’ nationality protects them, since the Iraqi troops are only interested in harming Kuwaitis. With no end to the hostility in sight, the real problem is how to get about 170,000 Indian citizens — many poor laborers without passports — to safety.

As in many other Hindi movies, the enemy of progress is Indian bureaucracy. With the embassy staff having fled, Ranjit is stuck in Kuwait without knowing who to call. Sanjiv Kohli (Kumud Mishra) — the Foreign Office staff member who happens to take Ranjit’s phone call — is reluctant to help because the Gulf States aren’t his department.

Kohli’s character is a huge missed opportunity to inject energy into the film. He never so much as raises his voice at the succession of ministers who ignore him, content instead to wait quietly outside their offices. Mishra delivers his lines at a snail’s pace, as though trying to lengthen his time on-screen.

Whereas Kohli represents a missed opportunity, another supporting character exists only to annoy. Mr. George (Prakash Belawadi) is an unrepentant curmudgeon who complains through the whole film. His only contribution to the plot is that he finally pisses off Amrita so bad that she yells at him on Ranjit’s behalf. He’s far too irritating for that one scene to justify his presence.

The only supporting character worth a darn is Ibrahim (Purab Kohli), a helpful guy whose subplot gets a touching payoff at film’s end.

Part of Menon’s problem in adapting the story for Airlift is one of scale. He condenses the heroes of the story into one character, but still makes that character responsible for all 170,000 Indians in Kuwait. How is it possible for all of them to be living on the grounds of a single school simultaneously? How many cars would be needed to drive all of them across the border in one night?

It would have made more sense for Ranjit to be in charge of a few thousand evacuees, with his efforts setting the template for the rescue of the rest of the Indians in Kuwait. Making him responsible for all 170,000 people highlights logical impossibilities that can’t be ignored.

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Opening January 22: Airlift and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3

Two new movies open in Chicago area theaters on January 22, 2016. The wider release of the two is the war thriller Airlift, starring Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur.

Airlift opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 4 min.

Also new in theaters is the sex comedy Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, starring Tusshar Kapoor.

KKHH3 opens on Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 8 min.

Wazir carries over for a third week at MovieMax, Cantera 17, and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Bajirao Mastani for a sixth week.

Other Indian Movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend include:

Movie Review: The Lunchbox (2013)

TheLunchbox3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Debutant director Ritesh Batra’s less-is-more style perfectly suits The Lunchbox: a seemingly simple story of an improperly delivered lunchbox that changes the lives of both the sender and the recipient.

Mumbai’s system of dabbawalas is one of the most fascinating systems engineered by humans, ripe for use as a movie plot device. Every day, thousands of dabbawalas (“lunchbox delivery men”, essentially) collect tens of thousands of lunchboxes filled with hot meals from residential and commercial kitchens, delivering them to offices across the city in time for lunch. Their rate of mistakes is estimated to be as low as 1-in-a-million.

Rather than let that one errant lunchbox go to waste, director Batra fashions a story in which a meal prepared by a neglected wife winds up in the hands of a curmudgeonly accountant.

When the wife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), is returned an uncharacteristically empty lunchbox one afternoon, she thinks she’s found a way to get her distracted husband, Rajiv (Nakul Vaid), to pay attention to her. When Rajiv compliments Ila on her cauliflower — a dish she didn’t prepare that day — Ila realizes that there’s been a mix up, and someone else has started receiving her food.

She includes a note in the meal she sends the next day, thanking the unknown diner for his enthusiastic appetite. The accountant, Mr. Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), sends back another empty lunchbox — and a note commenting that the food was a bit too salty.

Ila’s relationship with Fernandez develops sweetly as they gradually include more personal details in their notes. Ila’s interactions with her mystery diner are aided by her upstairs neighbor, Auntie (Bharati Achrekar): a disembodied voice whose only evidence of physical being is the basket of ingredients she lowers out of the window to Ila.

The lightness of the early relationship between the lead duo turns more serious as reality sets in. Ila is a young, married woman with a daughter, and Fernandez is just weeks away from retirement. The story ends in a more believable way than a traditional love-conquers-all romantic comedy.

(That said, I’d love to see Batra direct a traditional romcom. He’s very good with the elements of that genre present in the first half of The Lunchbox.)

Batra perfectly emphasizes the theme of urban isolation in the story:

  • Rajiv won’t make eye contact with his wife.
  • Ila never sees her neighbor face-to-face.
  • Ila and Fernandez communicate only via written notes.
  • Fernandez watches through the window as his neighbors enjoy a family meal to which he’s not invited.
  • Even Ila’s parents live across town, their physical distance mirroring their emotional distance.

This sense of isolation is heightened by a soundtrack that prioritizes urban clamor over music. The sounds of trains and buses provide most of the background noise. The movie’s infrequent music is provided by the dabbawalas singing on their train ride home or by old film tunes piping down from Auntie’s window.

Still, Batra takes this notion of isolation further than he needs to by implicating marriage as one of those isolating forces. Obviously it can be, since in Ila’s case it keeps her tethered to a man who’s not interested in her. But the movie’s most prominent female characters all seem to consider marriage an institution of diminishing returns for wives, as love quickly fades into resentful caretaking. Perhaps it’s more realistic than in a typical film, but it’s overkill.

The performances in The Lunchbox are wonderful. Ila and Fernandez spend a lot of time reading notes or silently deciding what to do next, yet Kaur and Khan make every moment riveting.

The supporting cast is equally terrific. Auntie is a wonderful creation, and Achrekar does so much to enliven the character without ever appearing on screen.

Though Ila provides the impetus for Fernandez to reconnect with people, his best opportunity comes through Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the eager young man hired to replace him. Shaikh needs a lot of help in order to fill Fernandez’s shoes, and Fernandez takes a long time to warm to the idea of mentoring him. Siddiqui’s great performance again proves that he’s as reliable an actor as there is.

The Lunchbox is something special, and hopefully the first of many great movies to come from a promising new director.

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