'Neerja' Special: Sonam Kapoor, On The Role Of A Lifetime
Neerja, a biopic and a cinematic representation of the dramatic events that unfolded on 5 September, 1986 when Pan Am Flight 73 from Bombay to New York was hijacked in transit at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi by Palestinian extremists, recounts the courageous true story of Neerja Bhanot, a 22-year-old part time model, and the head purser aboard the flight.
As a result of her swift thinking and brave actions, she managed to save the lives of 359 passengers and crew on board out of 379, all at the cost of her own life.
Neerja was hailed internationally as ‘the heroine of the hijack’ and posthumously became the youngest recipient of India’s highest civilian honour for bravery, the Ashoka Chakra; was bestowed the Flight Safety Foundation Heroism award by USA; Tamgha-e-Insaaniyat (awarded for showing incredible human kindness) by Pakistan; Justice for Crimes Award by United States Attorney’s Office for the district of Columbia; Special Courage Award by the US government; and the Indian Civil Aviation Ministry’s Award.
The film, sees Sonam Kapoor depict Neerja’s strength, courage and sacrifice and is an attempt to bring before the world this lesser known Indian heroines’s story, in order to set an example and inspiration to girls the world over for generations to come.
BollyBrit®, had the chance for a quick interview with Sonam to discuss the challenges she faced while enacting the part, excerpts of which are below:
This is a departure from the roles offered to you. Do you think you've done it justice?
I think you should watch the film for yourself to find out. Generally speaking though, the film was incredibly taxing both emotionally and physically and took a lot out of me but I was proud to be a part of such an important film, one that portrays and projects human spirit in such a positive light.
It was important that this story is told. It is about this girl, the youngest civilian who got Ashoka Chakra. She was a normal girl… She did a bit of modelling. She had the courage to save the world. I hope I have done justice to it. I was stressed throughout the film hoping I have done best job possible. I feel the reason why this film was made is to recognise everyone that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. You have to be ordinary to do extraordinary things and everybody has that in them. You need to have courage to do things. This ordinary girl did extraordinary things at such a young age. The film is not about me, the director or the producer but about Neerja.
Female roles are getting stronger – it's exciting to know actresses have come so far at least in the last 10-15 years ago... What do you have to say about this healthy trend, do you think it will stick around?
See I’d say trend is a very transient term. I’ve always tried to play characters that are both relevant and current, for example Aisha was very today. And trends come and go and I’d like to think the current scenario where roles are being written solely for women and depicting them as strong role models is a very positive one and is here to stay.
Has Neerja’s family seen the film? Do they think you’ve done the part the way they would have wanted?
I can’t really answer that but more than their approval I was honoured that I got the chance to enact the inspiring part of their daughter. A national and international heroine.
Do you think the story of Neerja will get the appreciation and awareness it deserves amongst the onslaught of biopics we have been having lately?
Thats a difficult question to answer! We’ve tried to be as honest as possible with our film and the way we’ve portrayed her courage and plight. The rest I’d like to leave up to the audience. I’m not sure how it will do, I can’t really tell the future, but from our side we’ve tried our level best to get this inspiring story across and we hope it gets the audience it deserves!
In terms of the actual shoot did you really shoot on a flight? What were the logistics of that? What was your favourite scene in the film or which scene touched you the most? This question was asked by your fans Fari, Regina, Alina and Atrayee on Twitter!
We have actually uploaded quite a few documentaries online, have a look and you’ll get a better idea of how each of the scenes were shot.
In terms of my favourite scene, I can’t really answer that because I have quite a few scenes that I was touched by and again, I don’t want to dilute the impact of the film, I guess you’ll just have to watch it and tell me which ones your favourite scenes were!
What was it like working with a legend like Shabana Azmi?
See I’ve never know Shabana aunty as THE Shabana Azmi. I’ve literally grown up in front of her eyes and I’ve known her all my life, so to share screen space with her took a fair bit of getting used to! But of course as an actress she’s absolutely amazing and I was honoured that she was playing my mother in such an important film.
How did it feel leaving the plane, knowing that at the time, Neerja actually couldn’t?
It was horrible, see sometimes its hard to imagine what must have gone on on that flight and I did find shooting some scenes and bits and pieces quite difficult. We are actors, we try and imagine the situation, but only one person knows what it felt like and that was her.
As part of raising awareness for the film, Sonam launched a campaign against fear on social media platforms.
The actress uploaded a video on Instagram, where she urged her fans and followers to share a clip of themselves talking about their fears and how they overcame it.
Hi everyone I often wonder how fear gave Neerja courage. I would love to hear your stories in 15 second Instagram videos. The most fascinating and touching stories will be posted by me, so that your stories can inspire other people to overcome their fears. You can be also be #Neerja. Use #fearvsneerja when you post!
As a result many of her friends, colleagues and co-stars from the Bollywood fraternity have come out in full force sharing their fears from the likes of Alia Bhatt, Anushka Sharma, Shahid Kapoor, Esha Gupta and even Salman Khan.
As a man who has faced many trials and tribulations in life, Salman quoted an immortal line his father had penned for the iconic 70s film Sholay, mouthed by the villain Gabbar Singh “Jo darr gaya, samjho mar gaya.”
Actress Anushka Sharma said of her fears, "My biggest fear is fear itself. I never want to be afraid of doing something I want."
This inspiring true story of a young girl who fought against all odds unravels in cinemas on 19 February 2016. Are you looking forward to the film?