Bollywood springs a welcome surprise on us with this taunt thriller largely devoid of the trappings of the ‘masala’ formula. Based on a real-life tragic incident, it’s relatively short (at 121 minutes) and tells the story of Neerja Bhanot (Sonam Kapoor), the head stewardess of Pan Am Flight 73, which was hijacked by a Palestinian terrorist group while on the ground at Karachi airport in September 1986. The pilots evacuated (as per their training, to avoid being coerced to fly), leaving 22 year-old flight attendant Neerja to safeguard 361 passengers on board from the gunmen. The stand-off lasted for over 17 hours during which Neerja was instrumental in helping the majority of passengers escape alive. Neerja herself was not so lucky.
Director Ram Madhvani cuts from the action to flashbacks fleshing out Neerja’s relatively happy personal life. With the exception of a song and dance sequence and the characterisation of the lead terrorist, which veers close to standard-issue baddie, it's efficiently and movingly told. Sonam Kapoor, daughter of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ quizmaster Anil Kapoor, proves at last that she is more than just a pretty star-kid, delivering a career-defining performance as the vulnerable but composed protagonist. Strong support from a veteran cast makes ‘Neerja’ a rewarding and emotional watch.