Neerja Bhanot was an ambitious, brave 23-year-old, who displayed tremendous courage and heroism in the face of terror. She displayed the one quality that makes one special – self-sacrifice. She put the safety of the passengers as she tried to rescue them. She could have been the first one off the plan but she evacuated the passengers and in the process gave up her own life while trying to save a group of children from the ensuing gunfire. She was the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra (India’s highest peacetime decoration award and 2nd highest gallantry award) and with more civilian bravery awards on both sides of the border and the USA. By the end of it she was an air hostess — a profession we so often judge, and not in a good way.
Neerja, starring Sonam Kapoor (who would have thought she could carry a film) in the titular role, is the story of the events of that fateful day and it also gives us a glimpse of Neerja — the person, the daughter, the professional, the saviour and more than all of this, an inspiration.
I’m a bit late in watching the movie but after watching it I couldn’t help but think of how Bollywood has time and again reminded us of historical incidents, where acts of heroism, courage and self-sacrifice of individuals have left a lasting impression, igniting the flame of change, among us. Some have even changed the course of history. Here’s a recap of all those films that made a mark in my mind and hopefully, yours too:
Shaheed-E-Azad Bhagat Singh (1954) / Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1963) / Shaheed (1965) / The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (2002) / 23rd March 1931: Shaheed (2002) / Shaheed-E-Azam (2002)
Yes, you read that right, 6 movies have been made on the heroism displayed by young bunch of highly motivated revolutionaries – Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and Chandrashekhar Azad. These brave young men played key roles in igniting the spark and influencing an entire generation to fight for their freedom. They operated on the theory of ‘fight fire with fire’, they had the determination to stick to their guns (literally and figuratively) and be ready to go down all guns blazing. They were resolute in their principles, exemplified by Bhagat Singh, by fasting unto death while serving his death sentence, demanding equality for Indian and non-Indian prisoners. Their strong determination to speak up for their beliefs to bring about a change inspired the youth of the country to continue fighting for independence and at some level it still resonates with the current generation. Their tales of heroism have inspired a number of freedom songs and movies. Call it poetic justice, the man (Bhagat Singh) who was hanged for bombing the central assembly (then equivalent of the parliament) has a statue in the Parliament House.
This J.P Dutta direction depicted the Battle of Longewala on the Rajasthan border in 1971. It depicted the determination, courage of the army Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, played superbly by none other than Sunny Deol firing and shouting on all cylinders (long before he used hand pumps to threaten the army). The major’s 120 odd battalion of Punjab Regiment and Border Security Force stood their ground, covered strategic positions and fought the 2000-3000 Pakistani army through the night before the air force flew in early next morning to provide the finishing touches. Folklore has it that he went bunker to bunker inspiring his men. For his display of courage and support for his men, he was awarded the Mahavir Chakra, India’s 2nd highest military award. The Vir Chakra was bestowed upon ten other soldiers from his battalion.
LOC Kargil (2003)
The 1999 Kargil war between India and Pakistan had tales of heroism, leadership, fearlessness, grit and self-sacrifice. And J.P Dutta, yes, that man again, brought these stories to the big screen in his epic LoC Kargil. The terrain was rough and there were battles where the enemy was in a position of advantage and that breached strategic locations. Our brave soldiers led from the front, used heavy machine guns, engaged in hand-to-hand combat (talk about being a hero!) and eventually drove the enemy back into their territory. We wish we could mention every hero here and with due respect to the other heroes, we shall name those who were awarded the country’s highest military award, the Param Vir Chakra – Captain Vikram Batra (Posthumous), Lt. Manoj Kumar Pandey (Posthumous), Grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav and Rifleman Sanjay Kumar.
Rang De Basanti (2006)
I am pretty sure, Rakyesh Om Prakash Mehra, in his wildest imagination hadn’t anticipated impact the actions of DJ, Sukhi, Karan and Aslam eventually had in our society. One of the reasons it worked so well was because we were able to relate to the characters and the socio-political challenges and bureaucratic hurdles citizens have to face every day. It remains one of the most (if not on the only) influential movies of our times. It changed the psyche of our population, galvanizing citizens to come together and stand tall against politicians, corruption and all that is wrong with our system. It was a social awakening of sorts, encouraging citizens to do their duties, channel their anger towards ‘giving a damn’ about right and wrong.
One of the direct impacts of the sacrifice made by these four friends was when the youth took to the streets to protest against the acquittal of the main accused during the Jessica Lal murder case. There were protests, vigils, inspired by scenes from the movie. They represented signs of solidarity. Citizens took to social media to spread awareness about the case. This put pressure on the government to give a fair trial and justice was finally delivered.
A true story of the heroic tale of six brave Indian soldiers who escaped from Pakistan after they were captured as PoW during the 1971 war. The movie showcased the soldiers’ courage and love for their motherland that they were ready to risk their lives for it and defend it against the enemy. It is a reminder for us, who take our lives for granted, to be thankful to our brave men and women protecting our borders and our families.
Mary Kom (2014)
Who would have thought that a mother of three, from one of the smallest states in the country with barely any training facilities would go on to becoming a 5-time Boxing World Champion, win a gold medal in the Asian Games and plethora of other medals. Mary Kom’s story is about dreaming, resilience and confidence in your talent, to know that if you kick some ass, you’ll make it big. She has inspired a generation of women to break the proverbial glass ceiling, pursue their dreams and never give up. She was awarded both the Padma Shree and the Padma Bhushan (India’s 3rd and 4th highest civilian award). Though she is still active in sports, her success inspired a film that delivered a knock out punch, just like the magnificent Mary.