Airlift is a 2016 Indian Hindi-language historical drama film directed by Raja Krishna Menon, starring Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur. The film follows Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar), a Kuwait-based businessman, as he carries out the evacuation of Indians based in Kuwait during the Invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.The story of film is adapted from real life story of a Kuwait based Malayali businessman named Mathunny Mathews.
With a budget of ₹300 million (US$4.2 million), the film premiered worldwide on 22 January 2016. The marketing of the film played an important role in the film’s promotion and collaboration with the flight company Air India, who had a major contribution in the evacuation of record-breaking number of Indians during the war. The film is featured among the 2016 Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India. The film won awards for its background score and acting, notably one Zee Cine Award.
In 1990, Indian businessman Ranjit Katyal (Akshay Kumar) is a successful Kuwait-based businessman who is very well-connected with officials in Kuwait and Baghdad, and makes a happy home with his wife Amrita (Nimrat Kaur) and their daughter Simu. He calls himself a Kuwaiti and is often derisive towards Indians.
After a night of partying, Ranjit is woken up to a phone call from his friend and receives word that negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait have collapsed, and Iraqi troops have begun their invasion of Kuwait. Iraq owes a large debt to Kuwait after the Iran–Iraq War and President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had urged Kuwait during earlier talks to reduce their oil supply so prices can rise in the market and Iraq can stabilize their economy. When Kuwait refused, and began slant-drilling into Iraqi oil fields, Saddam ordered the attack. That morning, Ranjit discovers that Kuwait is now mostly overrun by the Iraqi Army. Ranjit and Nair, his driver, go out and drive to the Indian embassy in an attempt to take their family and leave Kuwait. They are stopped by Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint and Nair is shot dead amidst the confusion. A shocked Ranjit is then taken to the Emir’s palace. There he meets Iraqi Republican Guard officer Major Khalaf bin Zayd (Inaamulhaq), who reveals that he was the one who pulled up to the checkpoint earlier and prevented Ranjit from any harm. Major Khalaf, who knows Ranjit from Ranjit’s visits to Iraq, chides him but extends his personal friendship, ensuring Ranjit and his family’s safety from the soldiers.
From there, Ranjit goes to the Indian embassy where he learns that the Kuwaiti government has fled into exile. Some 170,000 Indians in Kuwait are now stranded as refugees. Iraqi forces continue to push through Kuwait and Ranjit’s mansion is raided by Iraqi soldiers, but his wife and child manage to escape to his office. Ranjit convinces his friends to work together, and they set up a makeshift camp for some 500 Indians with Major Khalaf’s permission. Amrita urges Ranjit to use his leverage to extricate his own family, but Ranjit, who ordinarily would have just looked out for himself, appears to have a change of heart. He decides to stay and help the other Indians leave Kuwait.
Ranjit learns that the Indian embassy in Kuwait has been evacuated and phones the Indian External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi, where he reaches the Joint Secretary, Sanjiv Kohli (Kumud Mishra), and asks for arrangements to be made for the evacuation. Later on, the camp is looted by Iraqi soldiers and harassed some of the refugees. Ranjit pays a visit to Major Khalaf and talks to him about this, to which the Major simply extends his apologies, and also reveals that President Saddam has already permitted Indians to leave Kuwait, but the problem is that they have no way to do so. Ranjit travels to Baghdad to try to negotiate safe passage out of Kuwait, but to no avail. The only remaining option, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, turns out to be helpful. He discloses that an Indian merchant ship is due to arrive in Iraq with various supplies, and permits the Indian refugees to leave on the ship. However, Ranjit later receives news of the UN embargo and that ships are barred from entering or leaving Iraq, effectively crushing their hopes of getting out.
Meanwhile, Kohli is somewhat of a sluggard, but when his father (Arun Bali) recounts their tale of woe during the partition of India, Kohli is inspired to actively help Ranjit. He approaches the national airline, Air India, to lead an evacuation of the 170,000 Indians in Kuwait and gets the Indian embassy in Amman, Jordan to issue permits. As the Indians leave Kuwait, Ranjit comes across yet another checkpoint where he encounters hostile Iraqi soldiers who, in absence of any passports or IDs, threaten to kill Amrita. A skirmish erupts between Ranjit and the soldiers, following which the people in Ranjit’s convoy come forward and outnumber the Iraqi soldiers. Ranjit lets them live and the convoy passes. They arrive in Jordan where planes from Air India and Indian Airlines would fly the refugees back to India. The Indians salute Ranjit as they board the planes that will take them home. Ranjit however begins to feel guilty over his attitude towards Indians as he sees the Indian Tricolour. The film ends with Ranjit indicating that he always believed India never did anything for its citizens, but after being rescued by the country he and a lot of Indians had disowned, he may not ever say that in future again.
Akshay Kumar as Ranjit Katyal, (based on Mathunny Mathews)
Nimrat Kaur as Amrita Katyal
Inaamulhaq as Major Khalaf bin Zayd
Avtar Gill as Amrit Pal
Feryna Wazheir as Tasneem
Purab Kohli as Ibrahim Durrani
Prakash Belawadi as George Kutty
Pawan Chopra as Brij ( Indian ambassador in Kuwait)
Lena as George Kutty’s wife, Deepti Jayarajan
Kumud Mishra as Sanjeev Kohli, Joint Secretary of MEA
Arun Bali as Bauji (Kohli’s father)
Ninad Kamat as Kurien
Nissar Khan as Ashok
Kaizaad Kotwal as Behram Poonawalla
Gunjan Malhotra as Meher Poonawalla
Surendra Pal as External Affairs Minister
Sanjay Bhatia as Official at Indian Embassy in Amman
Rajesh Jais as Official at Indian Embassy in Iraq
Parveen Kaur as Ashok’s Wife & Amirta Katyal’s Friend
Pooja Nair as Preethi