From Neerja to Airlift: When fact competes with fiction in Bollywood biopics

  • Anjuri Nayar Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 03, 2016 11:38 IST
Was Neerja Bhanot biopic true to the facts?

Be it Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja or Akshay Kumar’s Airlift, films based on real-life events seem to be loved by the masses, but there are always a few objections that follow. After the release of Neerja — based on the life of the Pan Am flight attendant Neerja Bhanot who was killed while saving passengers on board a hijacked flight — a Facebook post by a crew member of the same flight, read that the movie gave Neerja “undeserved adulation”.

A still from Bajirao Mastani. The film faced protests for inaccurately portraying the Peshwa history.

Airlift is another such film. Based on the 1990 evacuation of Indians based in Kuwait, the film was accused of being inaccurate by witness accounts that cropped up soon after the release. Actor Nimrat Kaur, who co-starred with Akshay in the film, says she expected this outcome. “There are bound to be differences. Even when you are studying in text books about these events, there are people who often say that this is not how these things happened. There will always be different versions,” says Kaur.

Filmmaker Onir, too, sides with directors in this, saying when they decide to make films on real-life incidents, they are merely taking inspiration. “An artist should be allowed to do whatever he wants to. He/she presents his vision inspired from the incident. It is not a documentary. The same thing happened with Bajirao Mastani as well,” he says. The descendants of Peshwa Bajirao and Mastani accused the makers of the film of misrepresenting the historical characters.

A still from Airlift which showed Indian rescuing its citizens from war-torn Kuwait.

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta seconds Onir’s opinion, saying: “The filmmaker has to craft the story into a screenplay without losing the spirit of the character.”

Coming back to Neerja, Atul Kasbekar — who produced the film — had recently said that he’s not bothered by all this. “People have the right to have their opinion and I can’t do anything about it. Three countries have honoured Neerja and I will respect the process of crediting her as worthy,” he said. Sonam, who played Neerja, adds that it’s important to understand the emotions of the protagonist. “I find it sad when I’m asked if what we showed was real. At the end of the day, you never know what really happened. Witnesses are witnesses, everyone cannot corroborate. The emotions were what we captured,” she says.

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