Dear Akshay Kumar,
You really are the Baap of all Khiladis.
I say this after nearly watching Airlift, a film that you have so successfully sold us as a biopic of Ranjit Katyal, a messianic figure who 'saved' nearly 1,70,000 Indians from the marauding armies of Saddam Hussein.
By convincing us of the heroics of a non-existent saviour of us Indians, you have proved to be the greatest actor of your generation — hence the epithet of the Baap of all Khiladis — and pulled off a great con job on the entire country.
Take a bow Ajay of Special 26 for your heist this 26 January. As the unforgettable Shanti ji says in that film: Sir ji, asli film to aap bana rahe hain. Baaki sab to apni...
'That’s true but I cannot talk about him (Katyal). He’s still alive and a big businessman today, living in Kuwait. But I didn’t meet him. Raja Menon (the director) met him and spoke to him over the phone. But my character isn’t completely based on one person. There were three or four people like him, who were involved in the operation. We’ve combined all their stories for the character but Ranjit Katyal was the main guy. We’ve changed his name in the film. I should bring to your notice that in 1990, he was a multimillionaire but he lost everything, got everybody back to India from Kuwait and today, he’s a multimillionaire again. He’s earned back all his money,' Kumar says in an interview when asked about Katyal.
So, a few years ago, Ek Tha Tiger. And now, Ek Tha Ranjit Katyal!
If that be the case, this Mr Katyal should get the credit for inventing an invisibility cloak much before JK Rowling thought of it. Unless he was wearing one while pottering around to arrange finances and transport millions of Indians from Kuwait to Jordan; simultaneously throwing a few punches at Saddam's soldiers and delivering rousing speeches and one-liners, there is no reason why nobody should have seen him.
But, this, exactly, seems to be the problem. There is absolutely no evidence that such a man existed. "The truth is, no NRI helped us evacuate Indians from Kuwait. The entire operation was financed and executed by the Indian government," says Sureshmal Mathur, the Indian second secretary in the Indian embassy in Kuwait during Saddam's invasion, in an interview with a prominent Hindi daily.
Mathur may not be there in your film, but he was there till the last Indian was airlifted from Kuwait. So, he should know a thing or two about the rescue operation.
In 1990, when the crisis began, India and Iraq were not enemies. In fact, Saddam was considered a friend in Delhi and during the Gulf crisis, the Indian government was actually slammed for its pro-Iraq tilt during the Gulf crisis.
To maintain its diplomatic ties with Iraq, the erstwhile VP Singh government sent foreign minister IK Gujral to meet Saddam, whose embrace of the Iraqi dictator actually turned India into a laughing stock for the world.
Initially, India refused to support the US attack on Iraq. But under immense pressure from Washington and the rest of the world, it allowed US fighters to refuel in India, only to revoke the decision two weeks later.
The short point is this: Evacuating Indians from Kuwait was a huge logistical problem. But the Indian government was not exactly racing against time to save Indians in Kuwait from the advancing army of a dictator bent on killing them.
So, jingoistic chest thumping, fist pumping and flag hoisting could be riveting cinema, but it certainly isn't authentic history. Much of your Airlift is, obviously, fuelled by just gas. It could be a great film, but don't mislead us by saying it is based on the real heroics of a non-existent Messiah.
The real story of the evacuation is this: After the invasion, Gujral reached Kuwait (he was the first foreign leader allowed to do so) and promised Indians eager to leave that the government will evacuate them and the operation would be financed by the treasury.
Since operating flights from a potential war zone was difficult, Air India decided to fly Indians to Mumbai from Jordan. For taking Indians from Kuwait to Jordan, the Indian government hired an Iraqi bus operator. And the entire operation was coordinated by MP Mascarenhas, the AI head in the Gulf who was later on promoted to the post of the carrier's Managing Director, and the Indian diplomats in the region.
The story of Ranjit Katyal is just balderdash. In his interview, Mathur says some people had come forward to help the Indian embassy compile lists of people to be put on buses to Amman. One of them had given the staff his house to use as temporary office.
Everything else is a well-timed marketing con to make Indians brimming with R-Day inspired deshbhakti pay for their credulity by saluting a hero that never existed and ignoring those who were the real force behind the operation.
So, congratulations for the gigantic success of the sequel to Special 26 and for making us all victims of your PR heist.
Your audacious attempt at selling it as the story of a real man really tickles our funny bones.