Hindi cinema has always been enamoured of cloaking their heroes and heroines in the garb of well, heroes and heroines who actually lived amongst us. Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Dhirubhai Ambani, Phoolan Devi and Mumbai's underworld don Varadaraja Mudaliar have all been recreated on screen. Sometimes without acknowledgement.
Now, Sonam Kapoor is all set to portray one of the bravest women the world has ever known - Neerja Bhannot, the young airhostess of the ill-fated Pan Am flight 73 from then Bombay to Frankfurt, who died fighting terrorists and saving lives in 1986 when terror had not quite gripped the world as it has today.
When the plane landed in Karachi early morning, Neerja alerted the captain about a hijack. And unbelievable as this may sound, the American flight-deck crew - pilot, co-pilot and engineer - got off the aircraft and escaped.
Neerja took charge and resisted the hijackers' demand to collect the passports of all Americans on board. She hid them. Exasperated after a 17-hour wait, the terrorists opened fire and set off explosives that forced Neerja to open the doors and help the passengers get out. She could have run away, but like a true captain on a sinking ship, she stayed and sacrificed her life while trying to protect children from the hail of bullets flying around.
Neerja became the heroine of the hijack and was awarded the prestigious Ashoka Chakra. She was the youngest ever recipient of the award.
Recently, Irrfan Khan played Pan Singh Tomar - the steeple chase runner who turned into a rebel (Do not call me a dacoit, he had always said) - with perfection. And Farhan Akhtar was the celebrated hockey played in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. While Aamir Khan essayed Mangal Pandey in the biopic on the Indian soldier who played a key role in the days after the 1857 rebellion, Ajay Devgn Haji Mastan in Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Vidya Balan Silk Smitha and Priyanka Chopra Mary Kom.
Sonam Kapoor will portray Neerja in a film helmed by Ram Madhvani (Let's Talk) and titled Neerja. Principal photography for the movie will begin in a couple of months.
Will Sonam help in rekindling the tragic memory of that bloody day and a young woman who threw up her life so that others may live?