By Takshi Mehta Apr. 30, 2022
Ajay Devgn stars and directs this latest film about a miraculous plane landing. But what is a good premise to begin with is eventually wasted in this caricaturist portrayal of a near accident and the intrigue surrounding it.
Runway 34, directed and produced by Ajay Devgn is an aviation thriller, starring Rakul Preet Singh, Amitabh Bachchan, and Devgn himself. The film is inspired by the true events of the Jet Airways’ Doha to Kochi flight. The film is divided into two distinct parts, wherein the first half focuses on Devgn’s Captain Vikrant Khanna and his co-pilot, Rakul’s Tanya Albuquerque. The film dives into the almost-tragedy of the flight from Dubai to Cochin that ran into a cyclone but miraculously managed to land on Runway 34 of the Trivandrum airport. The second-half shifts between the aircraft to an even more turbulent courtroom, where Narayan Vedant (Amitabh Bachchan) investigates Khanna for the likelihood that the disaster was all of his making.
Runway 34 suffers from two-halves syndrome where all the build-up before the intermission, falls flat by the time you dive into the second part of the film. The first segment that centres entirely on Vikrant and Tanya in the cockpit and the events that lead to the dangerous but fortunate landing is competently directed and acted. Despite being shallow in terms of portraying nuanced emotions and reactions, the first half is riveting enough to get you to the edge of your seat.
Runway 34 suffers from two-halves syndrome where all the build-up before the intermission, falls flat by the time you dive into the second part of the film.
Cut to the courtroom drama where all the logic in the world evaporates as Narayan Vedant, aggressively pressurizes both Tanya and Vikrant to attest to the latter’s role in the entire incident. It makes you wonder if the courtroom truly has decorum for such a thing to be allowed. Also featuring here is Boman Irani as the businessman who owns the airline company. He is sly, villainous and desperate to make sure that the company stays out of troubled waters. However, his character almost seems irrelevant to the entire narrative. Vikrant, Tanya, and Narayan are all given one-dimensional characters, which is why full props to Rakul for adding the glint of turmoil and emotion to an otherwise bland character sketch. She brings vulnerability and sensitivity to a story of miracles and mistakes.
Amitabh Bachchan, is let down by a script that is singularly designed to live up to his gravitas. Had he been given an actual character with more meat, his contribution to the film could have been far greater. There’s also this mystery of why his character speaks every dialogue in both Hindi and English – maybe so the court can understand, but is that a thing? The translation spree that he goes on, is painful to endure as he enlightens us with words like shuturmurg to the uninitiated.
The disconnect and the inability to feel for the characters even while they grapple with life-altering situations is perhaps the biggest drawback for Runway 34.
Ajay Devgn as Vikrant epitomizes hyper-masculinity and machismo, with his arrogant demeanour and Ray-Ban wearing, steely exterior that becomes exhausting after a point. Even in a film that aspires to be close to reality Devgn in his direction as well as acting, cannot let go of the formulaic, straight out-the-poster, Bollywood hero. What could have otherwise been, a human story of regret, triumph and learning, becomes a superhero film filled with unnecessary and forced dialogues of self-reverence. Vikrant comes off as the flawless hero who saved the day, even in a film that wants to pretend it is interesting in questioning his morality and capabilities. Not really!
This disconnect and the inability to feel for the characters even while they grapple with life-altering situations is perhaps the biggest drawback for Runway 34. Even in the monologue at the end, where Vikrant finally explains himself, there’s a dreariness that doesn’t seem to go away, and the reason for that might lie in the fact that cumulatively, the writing, the directing, and the acting all struggle in evoking any sense of tension or compassion.
Runaway 34 falls short of being memorable.
There’s also a blatant lack of cultural awareness, which makes the film less believable in its totality. While attempting to show different passengers from different backgrounds travelling on the flight, the film has an old Parsi woman who keeps on saying dikra, a young burkha-clad Muslim woman with her child, and a loud Punjabi fellow, all of whom seem to be tokens representing India’s diversity. There are other curious choices like the officers at the ATC (Anti Terrorism Cell) in Cochin and Trivandrum speaking in Hindi and being rather ham-handed when it comes to speaking their own language. Considering the row that preceded this particular release, you can finally understand where Devgn was coming from. All in all, Runaway 34 in many ways had the potential to be what many aviation thrillers like Flight or Sully, or even Neerja for that matter were but falls short of being memorable. That too when its core story has all the ingredients of being inspirational and moving.
Takshi believes that in the end, we are what we stand up for, and thus you'll always find her wielding a pen and writing frantically. When she isn't writing, you'll find her dancing or reading. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @takshimehta