Airlines review: There's a lot of turbulence in Tulip Joshi's first TV flight

Rajyasree Sen

August 26, 2014 10:55:51 IST

​On Sunday night, Twitter was abuzz about a brand new show on Star Plus. Why? Because Airlines is supposedly a “woman-centric” and “feminist” show (whatever that means), written by Advaita Kala, the scriptwriter of the Kahaani. I’m all for Indian television making any kind of programme which has even a passing reference to non-repressed women. So I stayed up late to watch the rerun of the show.

Doffing their hat to irony, Star Plus has scheduled this woman-centric show right after a programme featuring Yo Yo Honey Singh. That in itself could be entertainment enough, but let’s move on to the show itself.

Tulip Joshi is Ananya, a pilot whom we first see driving through Delhi in an Ambassador with six family members. Why has the airline not sent a car to take the pilot to the airport? Should you be working for an airline which doesn’t have the money to afford employee pickups? None of this matters ​in Kala’s world of feminist pilots, it seems.

Courtesy: Facebook

Courtesy: Facebook

So Ananya is driving her family to the airport because it is her first day on the job. She’ll be piloting her first flight and her entire family has come to drop her off at the airport. There’s an awful maami who reminds Ananya that she has to help the family get out of debt, but barring her, the rest of Ananya’s family is supportive and loving. It’s good to see a middle class family being shown as encouraging their daughter to go earn a living, by joining an airline.

When Ananya pulls up to the airport, she bangs into the car in front, thus subscribing to the age old stereotype of women being bad drivers. This is particularly problematic in a woman who is also a pilot and wouldn’t inspire me with much confidence of her motor coordination skills. However, I will give her points for being firm and polite and not easily ruffled, despite being faced by an irate Delhi male.

It turns out that Ananya is the first female pilot at Inde Air. The captain she flies alongside is a friendly paternal sort. He encourages her to make the announcements and handle the controls during the take-off herself. This requires Joshi to widen her eyes and say, “I have control!” in a breathy voice. The captain also gives Ananya some advice about dealing with catty male pilots and female air hostesses, which is more jarring than Joshi’s attempts at acting.

To dispel one stereotype of the sheltered young Indian woman, must we propagate others, like women colleagues being bitchy and unsupportive? Must all male colleagues be divided between being lecherous chauvinists and kindly father figures? Why can’t there be a few normal male pilots and air hostesses among Ananya’s peers?

Enter Yudhishtir Urs, looking dapper and a little bit like a shoe bomber as he walks into the airport and exchanges newspapers with a stranger he passes on the escalator. Fortunately, since we’ve seen him in a pilot’s uniform in the promos and dealing with dastardly and suicidal pigeons, we know he’s not in the airport to blow things up. We also meet Nasser Abdullah, who plays the ATC chief Shravan Sharma.

To cut a long story short, Natasha the air hostess decides to give Ananya the cold shoulder, while lavishing her attention upon the captain. Akash (aka Yudhishtir) gets on the flight, looks shadily at a bearded man seated next to him and keeps his bag clutched close. He also flirts with Natasha, because that’s what all pilots and cabin crew do. The person whose car Ananya had banged earlier is also on this flight and upon realising she’s the pilot, he throws a hissy fit. He’s told to calm down or be deplaned. Then the captain has a heart attack, so Akash enters the cockpit and says that he’ll help Ananya land the flight.

Which is when things start to go wrong again.

Instead of Ananya telling Akash can sit next to her and guide her, but can’t fly the plane, Ananya throws a shindig and tell Akash he has to get out of the cockpit and she’s a trained pilot and knows what to do and so on and so forth.

​Akash leaves the cockpit and we discover that Ananya cannot establish contact with ATC and she’s near tears. You should be ​too, if this is what is passing for a “woman-centric” show. It’s fine to be shown as independent, but Ananya being obstinate and stupid enough to risk the lives of 120 passengers isn’t making a strong case for women pilots.

Somehow, the flight lands perfectly. Everyone applauds Ananya. Natasha, the catty airhostess, cracks a smile. ​Akash tells ​Ananya she’ll be hearing from the Pilot’s Association.

Yes, it’s welcome that a television serial has a working woman as the main lead. But is Airlines the serial that will break the glass ceiling of misogynist Hindi programming? Going by what I saw, I’m not very sure. To begin with, all the write-ups claim it’s a modern love story, which in itself is disheartening. Why can’t Airlines be a show where the romance is incidental and the focus is on Ananya’s life and work? Remember programmes like Astitva and Saans and Shanti and Udaan? Those actually did make really big cracks in the glass ceiling and they were gripping from the very first episode. You’d think that decades later, when television has become an enormous money spinner and supposedly earns pots of money in ad revenue, the production values and scripting would be better than before. But no.

Airlines is marked by terrible acting and very poor production value. Whether it is the fake tarmac or the fake plane flying through fake clouds or even the fake scenery that you can see through the windows of the car, this show really could do with spending a little more on production. The direction is very saas-bahu, with actors doing triple takes unnecessarily, like when Ananya takes off her jacket in front of the male ​pilots to reveal her pilot’s uniform underneath. She does it three times. Unless of course she was wearing three jackets, there really was no need for this triple whammy.

I hope that the second episode of Airlines will surprise me and fans of saas-bahu serials will watch this show and realise daughters aren’t meant to just be married off. That unmarried young women can live life on their terms and should be allowed to do so. It would probably help if a little more money was spent on the production and training the actors. And it wouldn’t hurt to add a little nuance to the pilots and air hostesses who
make up the world of Airlines.

Airlines is telecast every Sunday at 9pm, on Star Plus.​

Updated Date: Aug 26, 2014 10:55 AM