Neerja Bhanot, the 23-year-old air-hostess who died while she was shielding passengers from the hijackers of a Pan Am flight, has become a household name. Until a couple of days back, not too many people knew who Neerja was and what her contribution to history had been. Until, Sonam Kapoor starrer Neerja hit the screens on 19 February. The film that has opened to rave reviews was conceptualised and scripted keeping the family’s sentiments in mind. The crew made it a point to take official permission from Neerja’s family members to make the biopic on her life. And her brothers, Akhil and Anish Bhanot cannot thank the team enough.
Neerja’s father, Harish Bhanot, who was a journalist with Hindustan Times in Mumbai retired in 1993 after 30 years of service. Walking down memory lane, Akhil says, “Hindustan Times is like second home for us. Our father started working here in 1963 and he retired in 1993, so for a good three decades, we have been surrounded by Hindustan Times. We are grateful to the team that has made the film – Shabana, Ram, Sonam, because we believe that not only have they made a very balanced film but they have done a major service to the community. I will explain why I say that. The youth of today, does not know anything about Neerja, who she was, what happened with her and what she stood for. By making this film, they have given the opportunity to the youth to understand that there is nothing in the world to be scared of. You can conquer fear and do well in life.”
Neerja’s brother Anish however refuses to let memories of Neerja’s death haunt him. Instead he remembers his 23 year old sister for the lively person that she was. He recalls, “I was 30 when this incident happened but I don’t like to recall it or even think about it. I remember her as the fun-loving, a complete music freak and a joyful person. She had an uncontrollable laugh. This incident was an exception in her life. Her life was not like that. Her life was fun-loving and great,” he says as he chokes up.
Actor Yogendra Tiku who has reprised the role of Neerja’s father in the film talks about how the makers had kept the movie absolutely genuine. “I only went on sets of the air craft on the last day of shoot and they were doing some shots. Suddenly I was introduced by someone to the main terrorists and said, “This is Sonam’s dad.” And his face went blank. He was so much in character; he thought Neerja’s father was actually here. At a screening in Mumbai, Waheeda (Rahman) ji had come and her exact were to me when she came out in interval, were, “Who are these terrorists?” I told her that these are actors and then she asked me, “really? Are they actors?” They are so real, everything in the film is real”, he signs off.