Interview with Askhay Kumar for Airlift
1. The teaser of Airlift is clearly ruling the show, what with over 97% likes already and over 5 million views online. This is not just the best ever for your films but the best ever of 2015. How do you feel about this?
AK – I can’t express how lucky I feel, especially with the kind of ambitious cinema we’ve had in 2015, its been a whopper of a year! The feedback I’ve experienced for ‘Airlift’ is so immense & so genuine that I haven’t quite got my head round it yet. Remembering this is just a teaser, we were still shooting for ‘Airlift’ when we released this, but because of the humbling response from all over, we haven’t even had a trailer launch, this has been enough to make people sit up & recognize the ‘Story That’s Never Been Told’ which is a first of a kind for me, I’ve never not had to launch my film… The power of digital media truly has changed the face of films in India.
2. In the times when online views of the First Look as well as the response from social media clearly defines which way the film is heading, you must be thrilled with the overwhelming start.
AK – I am definitely thrilled, but I’m also a very pragmatic man, it is by far a response beyond what I could have even hoped for. For that is when something really means something, when you don’t expect or demand such a response, when the people themselves without you thrusting it down their throats, when they make up their own minds in their own time, that is when an actor feels the warmth of his work. No matter what happens from here, whether many come to experience this journey in full force or not, at least I’ll know they liked the thought of it. Now it will take not only my star power and the script itself, but the interest of the Nation and its people if they really care to learn about India’s brave recent history, and the strength of its people when push comes to shove…
3. How would you describe “Airlift”?
AK – It’s not just a film, it’s an insight into the harsh goings on & the bravery it took by average citizens to rescue its terrorized people. When not even governments could stand a chance in a war zone, brave civilians travelled tirelessly through deserted terrain in desperate hope their fellow Indians from their beloved motherland would have the courage to ‘Airlift’ them all out of Kuwait, where they had made a new life away from India, but needed desperately to be brought back to safety. All 170,000 of them. Even when people turn their backs on India in search of better horizons, India never turns its back on its people. A story so true that it makes you love your country even when you have forgotten how to…!
4. From ‘Special 26’, then ‘Holiday’ to ‘Baby’ and now ‘Airlift’ – Can one see this film is a fourth appreciated inning after a successful trilogy of inspired true stories?
AK – One can only hope! Who would have thought, the action packed comedy clown ‘Akshay Kumar’ would want to make so many real life dramas, where the action becomes painfully raw, & the stories hit home so hard it makes you look at life a little more differently…
‘Airlift’ deserves recognition, whether I do or not I leave that up to the audience. But the story itself is worth being told, that’s what makes me want to show our people. It is something to be so proud of, to the point it should be ‘compulsory in history’, taught in all our schools. This isn’t a fable to be enjoyed, this is a Heroic common man Endeavour, (which is why it probably hasn’t been over dramatized by media or by the government). It took average men with hearts of Gold to accomplish the safety of 170,000 Indians in the biggest Air evacuation of all time. Rather than a heroic mission planned by our forces, it was a common mans problem & it took common men & their wives to fix it…
5. Guessing the fact that you have three to four releases a year at an average gives you all the more scope to play around with varied genres.
AK – By the time ‘Airlift’ releases, this will be my 5th film within 12 months, so when I work this hard & this much, it gives me more freedom to branch out into many different aspects of Hindi cinema. You see I don’t like to put all my eggs into one basket, I’m not ready to only pray for one humungous success in a year, not yet anyway. I’m actually really enjoying the full mix match of genres I’m playing with right now, it keeps me on my toes & the audience happy that they know I’m not dishing out the same kind of cinema that works in hope it’ll make money.
6. How do you define success for a film?
AK – I’ve reached that stage where the success of a film doesn’t mean as much to me as the interest or the appreciation it can earn wholeheartedly. Not all Blockbusters are worthy, I say that from my own experience, as wonderful as it is to break records, there are very few that make it into the ‘Cult Club’ forever. These are so precious & rare, no one can dish out a ‘Cult’ every year, but there’s no harm in entertaining people while you wait eagerly for that magical script/screenplay that blows the audience away for the rest of their lives. And I’m happy making films that intrigue, excite, entertain people while I search for my next ‘Hera Pheri’ ‘Waqt’ or ‘Namaste London’
7. Since ‘Airlift’ is based on a true story, it cannot be frivolous and has to state facts as-is, with fair share of cinematic liberty. In that context, how much of Airlift stays true to the original plot?
AK – To be honest with you, this is not a cinematic liberty taking film at all, in fact it is probably taken down a notch or two so the real story could shine through. Rather than making it into an Epic War Film, we wanted to provide the public with the facts as to what the Indian civilians in Kuwait went through during the Iraqi War that was inflicted on them when the Iraqi’s had no right to kill a race that had nothing to do with their conflict in the first place (Not that anyone has the right to kill another human, but that’s a whole other argument).
This isn’t about trying to create an over exaggerated war zone to blow people’s minds visually. Airlift is about the ‘Story’ that was never told to us, it’s NOT about the terrorized events, it’s about the savior through bad times…
8. Unlike Holiday, Baby or even Gabbar Is Back which required you to perform a great deal of action, this one isn’t about the kicks and punches from you. How was it to be a part of some true drama?
AK – It was actually nice to take a break from all the fighting I’ve performed throughout 2015!! It’s been a very physically brutal year on my body, though I can’t tell you enough how much I still enjoy it. But to finally play a successful rich man, even though I am rich for only 5 mins of the film, it is my status and way of working that saves so many lives. To shoot someone else’s story, Rajput himself ‘God Rest His Soul’ should have been made a national Hero, so to recreate his struggle, his empathy to his fellow Indians was easier for me to understand than I first thought, because in fact he did everything I would have tried to do in his position.
9. If faced with the same situation as Ranjit Katyal, what would you have done?
AK – Well, let’s just say that in Airlift, I was in fact playing a businessman version of myself. I’m an extremely protective man, if something like this disaster was to ever happen again, I hope to be that man in real life that provides the kind of safety people are looking for. The best part about this film is it makes you want to be that man as well, so to educate an audience not to let even the darkest of demons like Saddam Hussein control our lives, gives me pleasure already. This is not a jaw dropping film, this is an eye opening film!
I know I can’t stop bad circumstances from happening to my people, but I want to think I can help them once the shit storm does hit, like what I do for my women’s self defense in Mumbai, I can’t stop men from attacking innocent women, but I will try to train as many as I can to defend themselves if they ever do. The Maharastrian Farmers, I can’t make their crops grow, but I can support them enough not to end their lives if it happens to be a bad harvest. The flood victims in Chennai recently was overwhelmingly devastating, I may not be able to help everyone, but I will do what I can as soon as I can, because that’s how I survive, God made my hand strong enough so I could hold others in their hour of need. I don’t want to just be an on screen hero, I want my kids to know it takes real action to be a real hero, not just defeating bad guys, but defending as many good along the way.
Airlift is an edge-of-the-seat entertaining thriller. The story, based on a true event, is set in 1990 in Kuwait, the time of the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The film has Akshay Kumar, playing Ranjit Katyal, a wealthy and powerful Indian businessman, who initially considers himself a Kuwaiti rather than an Indian. But after finding himself and the lives of his family in danger, eventually becomes the man who helps evacuate 170,000 Indians from Kuwait and brings them back safely to India. Over 59 days, 488 Air India commercial airliners were flown into a war zone to evacuate 170,000 Indians and bring them back home safely.
Airlift is the story of the largest human evacuation in history, which has also found its way to the Guinness Book Of World Records. In a cynical world, where one often wonders what the country has done for them, this is a stark reminder of what the country did, not for one or ten, but for 170,000 of its own. An event which has almost been lost in the sands of history, but an event we all need to remember.
Airlift is directed by Raja Krishna Menon and stars Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur (Homeland, The Lunchbox).
Airlift is in cinemas now. Watch the trailer below.