Proud moment re-visited

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Controversy apart, Airlift revives forgotten tales

On its way to the coveted 100-crore club,Airlift has evidently won the hearts and minds of cine-goers, having made the most of the Republic Day patriotic fervor. But many are asking: To what extent is the film, which depicts the large-scale war-time evacuation of 1.70 lakh Indians from Kuwait in 1990, an accurate reflection of the event? The Ministry of External Affairs has put out an official statement saying that the film has been poorly researched and doesn't do justice to the Herculean effort that South Block put in to carry out what remains till date the largest civilian evacuation effort. Former diplomats have also reiterated this view, and even some civilians, who were part of the evacuation process, have shared their opinion on how the film strays from the reality that they had experienced.

On the other end of the spectrum, the film-makers have painstakingly sought to underline that an event such as this always has multiple perspectives and narratives, andAirlift tells one story from the point of view of one character — Ranjit Katyal played by actor Akshay Kumar. Katyal's character is inspired by Mr Mathunny Mathews, then an influential Indian businessman in Kuwait who used his local contacts to help organise the evacuation. There is, of course, much dramatisation, and Katyal's character has, no doubt, been lionised. The debate is essentially over the degree to which Katyal's heroics inAirlift overshadow the good work done by others in real life. Given the impact of a major Hindi film production on public perception, this, understandably, has become somewhat of a contentious issue.

And more so since this is the first time that many young Indians are learning about this absolutely incredible feat. Of course, everybody knows that film-makers take liberty with the truth, and the reality is often not half as exciting or glamorous as depicted on-screen. Still, when the public has no other benchmark or reference point, it is inclined to accept whatever version of reality it has access to as some representation of the truth. This is possibly what has irked the MEA, which has arguably received a raw deal in the film. Still, even the ministry acknowledges that every film-maker is allowed his creative licence and, overall, has taken a balanced view of the matter.

But this controversy notwithstanding, Airlift deserves full credit for at least starting the conversation about this evacuation effort, which happened only two decades ago but had already been forgotten. Perhaps, the MEA's Public Diplomacy department should use this opportunity to commission a documentary on the episode, and indeed the many other evacuations that India has carried out over the years and across continents. Similarly, other film-makers too can follow suit and pick up the other stories that are waiting to be told from these operations — be they of Indian Government officials, evacuees or even foreign diplomats and leaders who may be involved.

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