Despite being aware how the story would shape and where it was eventually headed, I hoped until the last minute, that Neerja survives. She had me rooting for her all through. Sonam Kapoor deserves applause for bringing alive Neerja Bhanot on screen. I had my doubts she'd solely manage to lead this film. She thwarted them first scene onward. She's so effortless and natural, I immediately warmed up to her. She shines in the scene where's forced to sing at gunpoint.
Neerja is an intensely moving tale of the young, sparkling and courageous Neerja Bhanot, who stands tall in the face of fear putting on a brave front until the last minute. She is not without fear but doesn't let it overpower her. The film opens with air hostess Neerja Bhanot getting ready for her late night flight. The director interlaces it with scenes of Palentinian terrorists gearing up for the hijack of the same New York-bound Pan Am flight. Minutes later, we're in a space that's claustrophobic and equally terrifying.
The director does a brilliant job creating the tension and fear despite the viewer being broadly aware of what's to come. Ram Madhvani comes out equally triumphant in weaving a parallel narrative around how Neerja's family must learn to cope with the sudden news of their young daughter being held hostage, and her eventual death, interfusing it with flashbacks from her past which help flesh out Neerja's character. All this is helped immensely by actors like Shabana Azmi (mother) and Yogendra Tiku (father) who own the film as much as Sonam Kapoor.
Shabana Azmi's final speech is heartbreaking and inspiring. Years into this profession, she continues to mesmerise and surprise with her performance. I wouldn't even call this a performance. It's as real as it can get. I almost envied the bond she shared with her daughter. It's so palpable in the scene, for instance - where she comes to wake up Neerja for the late night flight and cuddles up to her - words wouldn't do justice.
Neerja is made with a heart and is a well-meant tribute to the young, selfless braveheart Neerja Bhanot. Do not miss it!