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Runway 34 review: This Ajay Devgn vehicle sticks the landing- Cinema express

Runway 34 review: This Ajay Devgn vehicle sticks the landing

The actor stars in and directs a tense, serviceable aviation thriller

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Published: 29th April 2022

Decades ago, Ajay Devgn had starred in a film called Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha. The most memorable set-piece of that film had Ajay, playing a con-man, distracting a plane of passengers as it hurtled and wobbled through turbulence. The situation returns in Runway 34, sans the humour. Ajay, as Captain Vikrant Khanna, steps out of the cockpit and makes an emotional appeal to his passengers to keep calm. They all oblige and get back to their seats. The scene is so drab I have no option but to contrast it with the relative excitability of an Anees Bazmee film.

Cast: Ajay Devgn, Amitabh Bachchan, Rakul Preet Singh, Boman Irani, Angira Dhar
Directed by: Ajay Devgn

Anees isn’t making Runway 34; Ajay is. It’s his show—he’s the director, star, co-producer and main attraction of this 141-minute film. His filmography has turned so predictable that I went in expecting the usual Devgnisms in this show. What I discovered, though, was a little different. Runway 34 is a frequently tense, perfectly serviceable aviation thriller, a genre of questionable repute in Hindi cinema. It’s not the next Neerja or Airlift, but it’s a cut above High Jack—though that’s hardly praise—and far less bloated than Gunjan Saxena and Bell Bottom.

The plot is simple. Vikrant goes drinking the night before his ‘Skyline 777’ flight is bound from Dubai to India. Though heavily hammered, he completes the bulk of the journey without incident. Nearing Cochin, however, the plane hits stormclouds. Will Vikrant listen to anxious first officer Tanya Albuquerque (Rakul Preet Singh) and divert the plane to Bangalore? Or will he endanger 150 lives by making a close-call blind landing with diminishing fuel in nearby Trivandrum? As part of a generation raised on intrepid Thumbs Up commercials, you probably know the answer.

The film holds firm even as the VFX department seems to stretch its budget. Ajay, back in the director’s seat after a while (he’d previously made the romance U Me Aur Hum and the actioner Shivaay), experiments with canted angles and parallel editing. It’s 2015—the film is inspired by a real incident—so it makes sense the characters will use older iPhone models from the time. The second half morphs into a courtroom drama, with Amitabh Bachchan’s stern investigator joining the fray. The writing here is the weakest (though Big B gets a sharp, funny line about Indians invoking the Army to mask their flaws.)

Vikrant is a tailor-made character for its wearer. He’s fallibly infallible—his ‘mistakes’ are setups for future reveals and twists. Ajay plays him with the same unsmiling swagger he’s known to embody of late. In place of complexity, he gets a few cool lines (like saying ‘jalaya toh nahin na’ to anyone policing his smoking). Still, the actor does well in casting himself; he can carry a big-budget film without the crutch of physical action. Bachchan paces the courtroom and seems to enjoy the free cardio. His voice, as always, booms far and wide, even when coming up with translations for arcane Hindi words. “Gurutvaakarshan!” he roars delightedly. “Gravity.”

Boman Irani and Angira Dhar are entertaining as a pair of comically evil corpos. But to write the onboard characters—an ailing woman, a mother with a child, a pesky businessman—as clichés drains the film of some necessary tension. I only remember one of them, an aviation journalist who senses trouble before anyone else can. In a season of unfiltered media-bashing in Hindi movies, he’s a touchingly nice detail.

Rating:
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