The Movie Neerja And What We Teach Our Daughters As They Grow Up

Posted: February 22, 2016

Neerja is a movie that is a must watch for many reasons, feminist reasons being some of those – about what we teach our daughters as they grow up.

One of the most unfortunate thing about being over glamorous is that serious people don’t take you seriously. They keep denying Leonardo Di Caprio an Oscar, nomination after nominations even though the poor guy keeps increasing his ugliness quotient with each role. And here in India, audiences are not ready to take the film Neerja seriously because they are not sure about Sonam Kapoor.

If you give Neerja a pass because you think Sonam Kapoor is not worthy of a respectable script, that would be the biggest mistake a film lover can make. If you love movies, you cannot, I repeat, cannot miss Neerja. I cannot think of any other leading star in Bollywood who could have done better justice to the character of Neerja than Sonam Kapoor. The character didn’t need a Vidya Balan or Rani Mukherjee to do justice to this role, Neerja is not your predictable strong women with fire in her eyes and strength in her face…she is just a regular girl, an aspiring model, and an air hostess.

Directed by Ram Madhvani, Neerja is not only one of the best plane hijack thriller films I have seen, but also one of India’s best female centric films. Based upon real life story of Neerja Bhanot, the Pan American air hostess who gave up her life doing her duty and trying to save the lives of over 300 passengers of the Pan Am flight 73 hijacked by terrorists at Karachi airport, the film portrays the series of events during the one and half day in the life of Neerja and her friends and family starting from the night before she flew till the day her body was received by her grieving family.

Beyond this there is not much to talk about the story. We already know the plot and how it ended, so there is no suspense factor. The thing to watch out for is how Neerja, this simple young airhostess and model emerges as the bravest person on the flight in the face of terror.

Neerja is inarguably one of the best films with a female lead narrating a woman story without even uttering common words like Durga, naari Shakti, devi, maa etc. It is particularly remarkable that the film doesn’t have predictable motifs and plots commonly used to make woman stories relevant and portray women as strong characters. There is no wronged woman here who wants to take a revenge, no mother who is struggling and fighting all odds to raise her children, no multi-tasking multi-talented woman who manages both work and family, no fierce police officer or successful film star. Neerja was not Jhansi ki Rani or Devi Durga, she was just Neerja and that made all the difference.

An ordinary middle class girl who was raised with middle class values. She was pursuing a career in modelling and was barely in her early twenties when her parents married her off to an NRI. As is the case with millions of arranged marriages in this nation, there were dowry demands, disrespect, verbal abuse and eventually physical abuse.
Her abusive husband and dysfunctional marriage would not have turned a speck of dust in our society where it is so common to endure a bit of violence in marriages. As Neerja’s mother said, “How can anybody end a marriage on small matters?” but they became relevant as Neerja gathered courage from the fear she faced at the hands of the terrorists which reminded her of her violent marriage.

Applause to Neerja’s father who always gave her support and courage. His words of courage encouraging her to do the right thing, have faith in herself and not tolerate injustice spoken to her in the context of her marriage kept coming back to her when she was in the flight hijacked by terrorists, and gave her the courage to put a fight.

Neerja is a film with great production values and technical excellence. The camera angle, sound, lights, are very new to Indian standards of film making and plays a big role in recreating the terror and panic as faced by the real passengers of the Pan Am Flight 73 on that fateful day. Technical excellence is supported by superior acting by the veteran Shabana Azmi who plays Neerja’s mother, Yogendra Tiku playing Neerja’s father and of course Sonam Kapoor worked hard for doing justice to her role. But the real pool of acting talent was the unknown actor who played one of the four terrorists, by the name Khalil. That man was so realistic it almost made me feel he is a real terrorist straight out of some terror camp.

One year later on a memorial day when Neerja’s family had gathered to pay tribute to her, Neerja’s mother speaks from the stage, “Don’t open up too much, keep to yourself, mind your own life, keep your eyes down, aren’t these the things we teach our daughters? I too taught these to my daughter. But I don’t know how she became so different so brave. I am so proud of her. She is my kuldeepak (the real proud heir of a family name).”

These words are a fitting tribute to a woman who ended a bad marriage, started an independent life and gave it up doing her duty and saving people’s lives all before she could even turn twenty-three. It is not what we teach our daughters, it is what we let them be. Neerja’s parents had let her choose her own road when she decided to end her marriage, they didn’t pester her to go back, and that led Neerja to save over 300 lives and become an inspiration for generations to come.

It is unfortunate though that I myself didn’t know about Neerja until this film was made. Thanks to Director Ram Madhvani, we now have a female twenty-three-year-old whose name has become synonymous with bravery and she’d be quoted and referred to on social media memes and motivational posters. Bhagat Singh has held that position for far too long.

Image source: Neerja trailer

Writer, photographer and a story teller. Women and Gender Studies is my theme and media

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  1. Pingback: Feminist Film Review – Neerja, not your predictable strong woman – This Is My Truth

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