Runway 34 is fresh, original and gripping

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Ajay Devgn plays Captain Vikrant Khanna in Runway 34. Photo: Universal Communications

How many Hindi films follow what I can call the FOG principle—of stories that are F-resh and O-riginal and executed in a G-ripping manner? Answer: Very few. And Runway 34 has that quality. In fact, among Mumbai-produced films of late, it probably is one with immense repeat value.

All speculation of the film being inspired by “some Hollywood hit” comes to naught when we watch Runway 34. It is based on the true (but obviously much dramatized) story of a Jet Airways Doha to Kochi flight, an aircraft that had a narrow escape on August 18, 2015 at 5:45 in the morning, after facing difficulties to land at the Cochin International Airport due to bad weather and poor visibility.

India’s first aviation thriller in the real sense (yes, Neerja, Airlift and BellBottom revolved around planes, but the subjects there were different) has very basic similarities in theme to the Hollywood film Sully (2016), but otherwise is totally original.

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Runway 34, above all, is a triumph for Ajay Devgn the director. A proven master at technology (he was even India’s first to use Computer Graphics for the title-song of Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha way back in 1998!), Ajay outdoes his technical finesse in Shivaay (2016) as a craftsman.

Directing a film in which all the key shots are of a plane in trouble due to highly inclement weather, and some misguided decisions borne out of a combination of factors that led to near catastrophe, Ajay gives us outstanding visuals and effects along with some brilliant DI (his own company, NY VFXWala, is in charge).

But Ajay avoids the cardinal error technology geeks among film directors tend to commit: he never lets the core and soul of the story suffer, or play second fiddle to the technical razzmatazz or its use. This is a rectification of his past work as director in Shivaay.

Using the real incident as a mere ‘take-off’ point (pun intended!), he concentrates on the human drama—egoism; some human errors even on the part of the Air Traffic Control (ATC) for largely unavoidable reasons; a tired pilot who has flown for a week non-stop and wants to reunite with his wife and daughter, whose birthday falls the next day; a staunchly supportive wife; a fan co-pilot; a ruthless investigator into this ‘pilot’s error’ that could have killed all 150 on board; the relevant side-story of a bereaved daughter and a shrewd airlines owner who will not stop at anything to save and boost his company.

It is in this department that the film flies high (excuse another pun!). And Sandeep Kewlani and Aamil Keeyan Khan deserve full marks for the well-thought-out script. The dialogues (especially in the interrogation-heavy second half) are a highlight as they are concise, aptly laden with wry humor and even sarcasm, and make points scathingly.

Ajay the director gets a firm grip on the pith in the story and script, and the emotions are pitched just right, without going into melodrama. His command over the narration is first-rate, and he gets excellent help from all his actors.

Amitabh Bachchan as Narayan Vedant, the veteran investigator, is excellent and his expressions are superb—here is a true-blue good role for him after eons. Rakul Preet Singh is just wonderful as Flight Officer Tanya Albuquerque—her frozen  and breakdown sequences are first-rate. Boman Irani as the slimy flight company owner is perfect yet again as he shows the right mix of cunning and bonhomie. Vijay Nikam is brilliant in his cameo as the ATC officer.

Dharmendra Sharma’s editing is razor-sharp, to complete the film’s “three-legged stool concept of cinema being essentially made at three stages—script, direction and editing. Technically, the film is fabulous.

But if the film belongs to director Ajay Devgn and the writers it also belong to the the actor in him. Outshining all his co-actors in the nuances, including the mighty Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay is simply fantastic as Captain Vikrant Khanna. His underplaying gets a new dimension here as he handles himself with a superb amalgam of the kaleidoscopic emotions in his mind at different junctures. This must rate among his finest turns in Hindi cinema alongside the likes of Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, Zakham, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, All The Best, Bol Bachchan, De De Pyaar De, Drishyam and Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior.

Runway 34 shows that if we set our minds to it with dedication and cerebration, Hindi cinema can still zoom high.

Rating: ****1/2

Ajay Devgn Ffilms & Panorama Studios present Runway 34  Produced and directed by: Ajay Devgn  Written by: Sandeep Kewlani & Aamil Keeyan Khan  Music: Jasleen Royal  Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Rakul Preet Singh, Boman Irani, Aakanksha Singh, Angira Dhar, Vijay Nikam, CarryMinati, Abhinay Raj Singh, Amy Aela & others

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