Ajay Devgn, Amitabh Bachchan, and Rakul Preet Singh star in this film. Ajay Devgn is the director.
3-star rating (out of 5)
Runway 34 Review: Ajay Devgn puts the ghost of Shivaay to rest in his third film as a filmmaker. In an inspired-by-true-events aviation thriller that tackles the ‘human aspect’ involved in controlling a passenger plane through extreme turbulence, he puts the attention on himself. Although Runway 34 isn’t exactly Bollywood’s Sully, the lead actor makes the best of the situation. The director isn’t far behind him.
Sandeep Kewlani and Aamil Keeyan Khan’s Runway 34 is beautifully staged and filled with moments that have the ability to take one’s breath away, especially in the first half. Yes, if the film’s return to terra firma in the second half had been scripted with a little more care, it would have flown much higher and gone much further.
Despite the bumps on the road, Runway 34, which is currently playing in theatres, has a number of positive points, not the least of which is the fact that it takes no time in reaching cruising altitude.
It spends half of its 148-minute runtime in the air, which is where all the action takes place, and cinematographer Aseem Bajaj and the visual effects crew deliver their greatest work. The picture loses some ground after the intermission when visceral action is replaced by words.
Captaining an aircraft from Dubai to Kochi, a highly capable but volatile commercial pilot flies into a storm that threatens the lives of his passengers and his job. He boasts that he has approximately 17,000 hours of flight time under his belt, but with the plane buffeted by strong winds and a hurricane approaching the location, his skills are put to the test.
The traumatic encounter has profoundly shaken First Officer Tanya Albuquerque (Rakul Preet Singh), whose family name is difficult to pronounce for everyone around her. Captain Vikrant Khanna (Devgn), on the other hand, is the picture of serenity in the midst of chaos. He shows only minor signs of nervousness as he makes a series of seemingly illogical judgments.
The first part of Runway 34 is taut and compelling, focusing on a 150-passenger aeroplane swinging between tragedy and deliverance. Of course, the unflappable hero is the center of attention. He has promised his six-year-old daughter that he will be home for her birthday no matter what.
The woman pilot in the cockpit beside him has only a little role to perform. The flight attendants are in worse shape – the camera barely focuses on a couple of them on a couple of occasions. They’re minor characters, much like the other women in the novel, particularly the pilot’s wife and his lawyer.
The females are never in charge on Runway 34. The first officer and the air hostesses pressed the panic button a little too soon, which can only indicate they were pushed into the deep end without enough emergency training.
The onboard drama is intriguing enough to keep the film afloat — it centers, among other things, around an elderly woman (Flora Jacob) who gasps for air and prays for a safe landing. Indeed, while Runway 34 is in the middle of its midair motion, it is entirely focused on its primary goal of creating tension.
Devgn is joined by Amitabh Bachchan, who plays a hawk-eyed aviation expert who grills Captain Khanna and First Officer Albuquerque in order to substantiate his conviction that the former’s cavalier ways have put the lives of his passengers in grave danger.
Runway 34 veers somewhat off course when it transitions from full, unadulterated adrenaline-pumping scares to a barrage of verbal confrontations between the pilots and the interrogator. Thankfully, the resulting blips are simply minor annoyances that do not cause the film to fall from the sky. Despite a few false notes from the roles played by Amitabh Bachchan and Boman Irani, Runway 34 is worth watching (as the owner of the airline).
In a true story, the two are like stock characters: one is an overbearing school ‘headmaster’ determined to bring an errant ward to justice with his arsenal of chaste Hindi terms, which he instantly translates into English as the trial progresses and the words pile up, and the other is a brash entrepreneur hell-bent on preserving his company’s brand value at all costs.
The heroism of a maverick pilot who sets his own rules is at the heart of Runway 34, but it leaves you longing for additional backstory to give Captain Khanna a more full and likable figure. All we know is that he has a photographic memory, which comes into play when he needs to recall past events in minute detail or swiftly comprehend pre-flight briefings.
The captain has a couple of scenes with his wife, Samaira (Aakanksha Singh), but they don’t add up because they don’t give us anything about what makes him who he is. His sporadic conversations with his lawyer (Angira Dhar), whose job to him is not to reveal anything to the persistent interrogator who is playing mind games with him, don’t help matters. It definitely presents a dilemma if Captain Khanna is allowed to be a dark character for that reason.
On the basis of what the data recorder discloses, the spectator, like the pompous Narayan Vedant (that is the name of the shuddh Hindi-spouting interrogator), is left to piece together the details of the flight and the key elements of the protagonist’s personality. We merely scratch the surface here as well.
Regardless, Runway 34 does a good job of putting one man’s brush with peril at the center of a gripping story that not only keeps the audience on the edge of their seats but also raises important questions about who is to blame for a flight gone wrong.
Is the pilot the only one to blame when things go wrong, or are there a slew of other factors at play – an act of God, the weather forecast, the air traffic control tower, the airline’s unwavering focus on profit, and so on – when a jet goes down 35,000 feet above the ground? Runway 34 takes a stab at the subject and comes up with a response that isn’t so implausible as to be discarded out of hand.
Ajay Devgn is the driving force behind Runway 34, with a constant performance that seldom goes unnoticed. Despite being reduced to second fiddle, Rakul Preet Singh provides a strong performance. The path for the other performers, including Amitabh Bachchan, is littered with air pockets caused by smudged writing. Runway 34, on the other hand, makes a smooth landing with its gear in order and adequate gasoline in its tank.