Neerja is a 2016 Indian Hindi-language biographical thriller film written by Saiwyn Quadras, and directed by Ram Madhvani starring Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi and Shekhar Ravjiani. The film was produced by Atul Kasbekar under the banner of Fox Star Studios. The film revolves around the Libya backed Abu Nidal Organization's hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan on 5 September 1986. The film is shown from the point of view of the flight's head purser Neerja Bhanot who thwarted the hijack attempt by preventing the plane from taking off, and saved the lives of 359 passengers and crew on board.
The film released worldwide on February 19, 2016 to critical acclaim.
The film opens with Neerja Bhanot (Sonam Kapoor), 22 years old, arriving (late) for a house party. She's loved by everyone, the life of every party. Later that evening her mother (Shabana Azmi) expresses concern once again about Neerja's job as a flight attendant and suggests Neerja return to her old job of modeling. Neerja likes her job and is driven to the airport by her boyfriend Jaideep (Shekhar Ravjiani). (Her mother is not totally thrilled about this either.) Neerja's colleagues love Jaideep, he adores her and gives her an advance birthday present.
Neerja reflects on her brief and unhappy arranged marriage. Her former husband was a professional in Doha, Qatar. He constantly harangued and abused Neerja over dowry. (It is revealed that Neerja's family had made it clear there would be no dowry, but the husband had expected something anyway.) He also abused Neerja as she could not cook or clean. She eventually returned home to honor a modeling contract. He sent back a humiliating letter attacking her parents about dowry, her lack of domestic skills and suggesting that she had better bring something (money) back or not come back at all. She broke off with him and landed a highly competitive job with Pan Am.
As Neerja boards Pan Am 73 (Sep 5, 1986) it is revealed that a terrorist group has planned to hijack the plane in Karachi. The plane takes off from Mumbai and lands in Karachi where the terrorists board the plane disguised as security officers escorting a Libyan diplomat. They reveal themselves and hijack the plane. Neerja quickly alerts the cockpit and the American pilots escape through the overhead hatch and run into the terminal. (The plane cannot be flown.)
When an Indian American inadvertently reveals himself (to be an American) the terrorists grab him and shoot him dead before the Pakistani negotiators. The terrorists try to locate the radio engineer among the passengers but Neerja bravely signals him to remain quiet. Later the terrorists ask the flight attendants to collect the passports so as to locate the Americans and hold them hostage. Neerja and her colleagues collect the passports but skilfully avoid any American passports by kicking them under the seats or down the trash chutes. Soon the terrorists locate a British citizen and use him for negotiations.
The Pakistan negotiators inadvertently reveal the name of the radio engineer (a Pakistani); he is now located and roughly brought into the cockpit to start the radio and begin the negotiations. The Pakistanis stall for time. The terrorist leader chastises the other, younger, terrorist who has begun roughing up the passengers and molesting the attendants (including Neerja). Angered by his public embarrassment the younger terrorist storms into the cockpit and shoots the radio engineer and, in full defiance of his leader, screams wild threats over the radio. The terrorists are confused; the leader only wants to complete the mission but the younger man is now only serving his own rage. Pakistani air control is still negotiating but they are slowly losing control and time and the terrorists are getting agitated by the minute.
Some 17 hours later the plane loses auxiliary power and the lights go out. Despite Neerja and the other attendants trying to explain this as a normal airplane reaction, the terrorists believe the power was cut by the Pakistan armed forces who will soon storm the plane. They now begin indiscriminately shooting passengers. At great peril to her own life Neerja opens the rear door and deploys the chute and begins directing passengers down the chute. Neerja could have escaped by herself but she chose to put the passengers first. In the end she is shot and killed by the terrorists as she tries to shield young children from the gunfire. The film ends with a tributary message to Neerja who was eventually recognized with bravery awards by India, Pakistan, USA, and other countries.
Sonam Kapoor as Neerja Bhanot
Shabana Azmi as Rama Bhanot
Shekhar Ravjiani as Jaideep
Yogendra Tiku as Harish Bhanot
Sadh Orhan as Saad Mallik
Abrar Zahoor as Zayd Safarini
Jim Sarbh as Khalil
Ali Baldiwala as Mansoor
Vikrant Singta as Fahad
Kavi Shastri as Naresh
Bobby Arora as Sardar Family Friend
Rehan Shaikh as passenger
Edward Sonnenblick as Capt. Jack Snipes
Arnold Malek as Capt. Harrison James
Waqar Khan as Co-Pilot Richard Bertrand
Bollywood Hungama gave the film 4/5 stars and said, "as a movie watching experience, 'Neerja' is flawless. There's not a single false note." Writing for the Hindustan Times, Anupama Chopra also awarded the film 4/5 stars saying, "Neerja is a truly inspiring story that will grip you from the first frame till the last," and calling it Sonam Kapoor's best performance. Rajeev Masand gave the film a 3.5/5 rating and said that 'Neerja' is "a well-intentioned, heartfelt film that pays tribute to a real hero." Sarita Tanwar from Daily News and Analysis gave the film 4/5 stars and said, "Neerja is quite easily the finest film in recent times (on par with 'Talvar') based on a true story. She also said that cinematographer Mitesh Mirchandani ensures that 'Neerja' is "one of the best shot films in recent times." Raja Sen from Rediff.com gave the film 4/5 stars as well and called it "an absolute must-watch," and adding that "Sonam Kapoor is exceptional as Neerja Bhanot."Subhash K. Jha from SKJ Bollywood News gave the film 4.5/5 stars and called it "A Brilliant Tribute To The Braveheart And To Rajesh Khanna
Neerja is a milestone in Sonam Kapoor’s career. Not just because it’s a good film, but because she carries it entirely on her shoulder. She looks earnest, scared, benevolent and bold, all at the same time. You should see her in the scene where a terrorist frisks her: She aces it with a panache seldom seen in mainstream Hindi films. Shabana Azmi is very impressive as Neerja’s mother, her grip over emotional scenes are quite visible. The other person who deserves applause is Yogendra Tiku who plays Neerja’s father. The emotions reflect so swiftly on his face that you can see your dear ones there.