Ajay Devgn’s aviation drama lands well within the runway

Runway 34 Story: Captain Vikrant and first officer Tanya Alburqurquee find themselves riled in an investigation following a Mayday call before landing an aircraft in testing conditions. Do the pilots aptly justify their actions and make their way back into the cockpit?

Runway 34 Review: Runway 34 is loosely based on the story of the narrow escape that a flight from Doha to Kochi had a few years ago due to unclear visibility and bad weather conditions. Captain Vikrant Khanna (Ajay Devgn, also the director and producer here) is a high-flying pilot who is confident and borderline arrogant about his abilities, especially to handle turbulence and crisis, 35000 feet above sea-level. He’s employed with an airline company.

On what starts off as a routine trip from Dubai to Cochin, he encounters torrid weather conditions. Much against the suggestions of his first officer Tanya Albuqurque (Rakul Preet Singh), not only does he change the flight’s alternate destination, but eventually, also sends out the ‘Mayday’ message just before landing the flight, a few inches shy of a crash. How the investigation in the matter pans out forms a considerable part of the narrative.

Even though there are precedents of similar dramatic films like Sully and Flight in Hollywood, Ajay Devgn’s directorial is a first in many ways for Hindi cinema, and a clear and pleasant departure from his previous attempts to helm the megaphone. His growth as a storyteller is hard to miss. The cutting-edge visual treatment of the narrative, a crisp story (Sandeep Kewlani) and screenplay (Sandeep and Aamil Keeyan Khan) with no undue romantic and dramatic digressions or interludes, smart utilisation of VFX, moments of thrill that bring one to the closure of the first half, the sound and production design of the film are just some of the undebatable plus points of the movie.

Even though its runtime is about two hours and 28 minutes, it doesn’t feel that long, and is engaging in both thrill and drama departments in equal measures. Performances by Amitabh Bachchan, Boman Irani and Ajay are well-composed and on-point with their characters. The music interspersed with the story also lends itself well to the proceedings.

However, there could have been more drama and layering to the trial-led second half. To begin with, even as the screenplay continues to closely examine whether it was the weather conditions or the mindspace of the pilot that led to the ‘Mayday’ call, it misses addressing a few crucial questions. One of them, for instance, is why the pilot chose not to divert to the flight’s designated alternate destination despite being prompted by his first officer? And why was this angle not prodded sufficiently in the course of a closed-door trial?

Smaller supporting characters like the aviation journalist, the irate businessman and the guy recording videos on his phone in the flight felt like they would have more purpose in the trial portions. Sadly, they didn’t. Also, though Boman Irani makes his presence felt he doesn’t have much scope to perform. Rakul performs her part with complete honesty, striking a fine balance between a gamut of emotions, but one would have liked to see her role etched out a little better. Angira Dhar and Aakanksha Singh could have done with chunkier parts to play and contribute more to the narrative, too.

However, Runway 34 should be experienced for the way it depicts one of the scariest, and a near-disastrous aviation mishap in recent times with engaging characters, thrill and drama. Although there have been films shot in large and small chunks inside aircrafts, this one plays wonderfully on the audience’s psyche showing them exactly what may just go wrong if the weather doesn’t support a flight’s landing, and what can happen when decisions have to be made running against a clock. Overall, the film doesn’t spend too much time taxiing on the runway; it takes off quickly and keeps you hooked till you disembark from the theatre’s aisles.

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