Akshay Kumar-starrer ‘Airlift’ is enjoying both critical and commercial success at the Box Office. It has minted Rs.80 crore since its release on January 22. Obviously, a patriotic tale of a courageous Indian coordinating a massive airlift operation of 1.76 lakh of his countrymen stranded in a war-torn country automatically attracts many takers. So everyone applauded he deeds of fictional business tycoon Ranjit Katyal and his efforts in helping Indians get back home during the 1990 Kuwait-Iraq War that began on August 2, 1990 and lasted until February 27, 1991.
Hari Om Entertainment
But when the Ministry of External Affairs comments on a film, you know that there is something in it that compelled them to do so. In this case, it is too much fictionalization of real events.
The ministry said that the film was without a doubt a “good entertainment” but “short of facts”. In fact, Vikas Swaroop, the spokesperson of the MEA, himself tweeted this: What ‘Airlift’ shows is how a few local Indian businessmen do everything to take their fellow countrymen back home and presents the Indian embassy officials in poor light.
According to the film, the officials at the Indian Embassy in Kuwait were the first to flee the country following Saddam Hussein’s invasion. This is far from the truth.
The MEA points out that it played a very proactive role in safeguarding the interest, concerns and security of Indian citizens who live and work abroad. So who were the men who work behind the scenes to actually conduct the ‘airlift’?
Capt Vijay Nair
Capt Nair Air India was one of three officers under whose watch Indians were evacuated from Jordan’s capital Amman to India.
Then the regional director of the Gulf and Middle East Airlines, Mascarenhas headed the airlift operation with two of his deputies.
Indian Embassy officials
It was the embassy officials who maintained a regular contact with local bus service providers and got 80 buses to ply every day to help the evacuees reach Basra, Baghdad and Amman.
From left: Venkat Narayan, Capt Vijay Nair and Michael Mascarenhas
Fabian was the tip of the spear that led the evacuation effort. The Joint Secretary of the MEA’s Gulf Division, Fabian co-ordinate with those involved in the rescue effort and personally took charge of motivating the Air India crew.
A file photo of K.P. Fabian.
Inder Kumar Gujral
Inder Kumar Gujral was the foreign minister at the time. With Gulf Division Head K.P. Fabian, Gujral met Saddam Hussein and sought help in evacuation of Indians there. According to Fabian, Hussein agreed more so because Iraq had a shortage of food supplies.
The late I.K. Gujral. He would go on to become the 12th Prime Minister of India.
He headed the committee that provided food to stranded Indians. It was he who personally coordinated 15-16 flights from Jordan to India on a daily basis. The Indian Business Council in Dubai and other Indian committees came forward to assist in the operation
Menon was the third Indian to have stepped foot in Kuwait
. An established businessman, Menon offered to finance the evacuation effort. Speaking to the Indian Affairs Journal in 2011, Indian diplomat K.P. Fabian recalled his conversation with Menon in which the latter had made the offer.
K.T.B. Menon (left) at a Derby.
The character of Katyal is inspired by Matthew and Harbhajan Singh Bedi. According to Matthew’s family, he arranged for the transport many Indians and even gave some money so that they can meet essential expenses. Ashok Kumar Sengupta, then an officer of the Indian Embassy in Kuwait, mentioned Matthew’s assistance in an interview.
A file photo of Sunny Matthew.
Harbhajan Singh Bedi
Harbhajan Singh Bedi was close to the ruling Al-Sabah family of Kuwait. Inder Kumar Gujral had given him the right to issue passports and travel documents of stranded Indian people. According to some reports, he formed a 51-member committee for the evacuation.
File photo of Harbhajan Singh Bedi. He died four years ago.
He was the man who oversaw the entire operation. Then a surface transport minister in the National Front Government headed by late V.P. Singh, Unnikrishnan proposed that the government use some 20 Airbus aircraft bought by India but lying grounded due to an enquiry be used for the purpose. “”The stranded people were first brought to Amman and from there to Dubai and then to Mumbai,” he had said in a 2011 interview
‘Airlift’ is an excellent movie, but as is the case with many Indian films, it tries to trivialise certain facts while highlighting others.