On the eve of India’s 67th Republic Day, I had gone to watch Airlift. No, I did not watch the movie to welcome the Republic Day with any patriotic fervour. Nonetheless, I walked out of the movie angry. Angry on multiple counts. Before writing further, let me tell you I have never written movie reviews. Urge you not to consider this one.
Firstly, the movie poster made me angry. “170000 refugees. 488 flights. 59 days. 1 man”. Angry at distorted figures and facts. If you call it a work of fiction, do not take references. If you do, do it right. 1 man did not make an operation of such scale happen. It was the effort of multiple individuals and agencies. Unfortunately, profitability and success of the movie takes precedence and hence, attribute it to a single man.
In a country like India it is not only wrong, but dangerous to portray fiction as inspired-from-a-true-story. The director/producer cannot expect the audience to read their 6 line disclaimer in 10 seconds and believe it’s just a piece of fiction. So I presume the motive. Unfortunately, most of the movie going audience do not take time off to read the true incidents. Movies are windows for them to assume facts and form opinions. A few hours ago, I dialled a friend only to ask him what he thought of Mr. Katyal. “India should be so proud of Mr.Katyal macha. He was more effective than Indian government during the time of need”, came his reply.
For my i-form-my-opinions-from-movies friends, let me give you some facts. Since this is no video, I am not sure if you would read this article. Nonetheless, I will try.
- Mr. Katyal is a fictitious character. He did not exist.
- The operation did not happen in a day. Imagine 1.7 lac Indians going in 20 buses? Doesn’t happen. It happened over a period of a month.
- Relief camps were setup in the desert for Indians to stay. United Nations (UN) had provided the necessary relief material for Indians to stay in these camps.
- Red Cross/ Red Crescent had setup medical camps to attend the needy.
- The operation happened with full cooperation of the Iraqi administration.
- I.K Gujral, the then foreign minister, met Saddam Hussain to facilitate evacuation of Indians.
- Indians were allowed to drive around the cities even during Iraqi invasion. They were also allowed to buy groceries and food from wherever it was available.
- The most important, Indian Government did their best.
This is a classic case of a movie made with profitability as the end goal. Patriotism was just a by-product for the movie goers.
If the movie was to be made with real facts, the hero would be Indian Government, Bureaucrats and the pilots of Air India and the Armed Forces. Indians unfortunately already have a negative bias towards the political class and bureaucrats. This movie further adds to the existing negativity. I am angry. Because the Indian Administration was painted with a lethargy brush. Where credit is due, be humble enough and acknowledge. As makers of a mass communication tool, it is every film makers’ responsibility to not distort facts for fiction.
If anything, the evacuation of Indians from Kuwait was a success story of the Indian Government. Indian Bureaucracy. Indian Diplomacy. Indian Armed Forces. Airlift managed to successfully sideline all of this. That makes me angry.
For me, the best part of the movie came at the end. The casting scroll at the end had real pictures of the operation as background. It showed the war-room like scenarios, the true emotions each bureaucrat face, while dealing with an event of such magnitude.
Each of the picture spoke a story much powerful than the entire movie. The images showed real fear, hope, dedication, anxiety, frustration and many more emotions of people handling the situation from Delhi and Baghdad. Those images, for me, defined the Kuwait evacuation. After being angry for 100 odd minutes, in the end, Airlift gave me something I could cherish.
Unfortunately, the traditional movie goer had already walked out of the cinema by the times these images started to play.