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‘Runway 34’ Review: This Flight Fuelled Up On Masculinity Takes Off Well But Doesn’t Stick The Landing.

April 29, 2022 | by Jinal Bhatt

Of the many things that I imagined Runway 34 would be like, I didn’t think it would be so meta. Because what happens in the film actually mirrors how this film made me feel. To give you a rough idea, Runway 34 is about a pilot who overestimates his skills, almost narrowly avoids a catastrophic crash, and despite saving lives, ends up under scrutiny for his actions. Runway 34, then, is a film that takes off surprisingly well, but overestimates and oversells the star power of its actors, diverts from its genre to a courtroom drama, and ends up not sticking its landing. Oh and might I add, the co-pilot really doesn’t have much to offer because this flight is fuelled up on masculinity. Runway 34 is produced, directed, and headlined by Ajay Devgn, also starring Rakul Preet Singh, Aakanksha Singh, Angira Dhar, Boman Irani, and Amitabh Bachchan.

The screenplay and dialogues are by Sandeep Kewlani & Aamil Keyan Khan. The director of photography is Aseem Bajaj, VFX by Naveen Paul, and the film is edited by Dharmendra Sharma.

 

 

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What’s Runway 34 about?

The film begins with a very ‘alpha male’ introduction of one Captain Vikrant Khanna. Yep, he has an intro song that repeatedly tells you about the alpha male he is, and in his Ray-Bans, you see how women swoon over him in his pilot uniform. He is a evidently a man who likes playing with the rules and testing limitations. He is also a man with an eidetic memory (photographic memory, like Mike Ross from Suits). And yet, he forgets where he has stashed his cigarette packet, or as a conversation with his wife points out, saying “I love you.” Every single time. I’m going to take this as a clever foreshadowing of his shortcomings: Even someone who is THAT good can falter, miscalculate.

A night before an international flight from Dubai to Cochin, Cap goes out partying and gets sloshed. The next day, he meets his co-pilot and first officer, Tanya Albuquerque (sir, what is this name choice, explain toh kijiye?), who is an impressed and eager junior, excited to be flying with the great Captain. We also meet a couple of other characters: People working in the system who are having a bad day, which will indirectly affect the flight, and passengers on this Skyline 777 flight that you know are going to either be a nuisance when catastrophe strikes or emotional plugs when the tension peaks. 

The flight takes off smoothly, and our super Cap takes a chill pill, much to the shock of his newbie co-pilot, who is probably learning the lesson about not meeting one’s heroes because you’ll be disappointed by how ordinary and prone to follies they too can be. However, terrible weather wrecks havoc, and it all falls to our hero pilot to save the day. His decisions aren’t exactly the best, and even though he manages to save some 150 lives, there’s an inquiry on how this entire fiasco could’ve been avoided in the first place. Leading this investigation is a formidable man who loves Hindi, Narayan Vedant, the head of the AAIC (Airplane Accident Investigation Committee). 

Runway 34 has a gripping first half, and Ajay Devgn puts up quite the performance

Like a hopeless student who hasn’t studied for an exam but still prays to God to make him pass, I prayed that the film wouldn’t fall for the clichés. Alas, I should’ve known. We spent a hell lot of time on the ‘swag’ of Ajay Devgn’s character as the Captain who can do no wrong, even when he takes wrong decisions and flies above the rules all the time. But okay, fair, I can understand. What I don’t get is why every plane movie has to have that one drunk annoying passenger, a bunch of other cliché characters, and an emotional scene between the pilot and an old passenger/child, assuring them of safety? 

However, despite these minor peeves, the first half of Runway 34 is actually good. It’s peppered with little details (and a couple of red herrings) that pay off with an“Ohhh!” moment in the second half. I was sitting there and clicking my tongue at all the cheesy clichés when the flight turbulence and the landing sequence gripped me real tight and wouldn’t let me go. I mean, sure, you know that Ajay Devgn and Rakul Preet are to have a disciplinary inquiry so the plane is not totally crashing, but there are a lot of variables in play here, particularly the passengers, that keep you at the edge of your seat.

The cockpit scenes are effective, and both our pilots looked like they knew what they’re doing, which is the point. Ajay Devgn’s trademark silent and calm demeanour works incredibly well juxtaposed against the impending danger that has everyone else panicking. A thin trickle of sweat is the only indication of his own internal turmoil. The CGI is pretty good too. The shots of the aircraft amidst the clouds, the attempts at landing, and the climactic end of the first half, really earn most of the points I give to this film.

Also Read: ‘Heropanti 2’ Twitter Review: Tiger Shroff And Tara Sutaria’s Film Fails To Impress The Internet. We Are Not Surprised

However, the film spectacularly nosedives post interval when it shifts from cockpit to courtroom drama

In Runway 34, the pilot makes a decision to divert the flight to another destination because of bad weather, which is a misstep on his part and causes the ensuing trouble. Proving that meta theory of mine, the film also takes the decision of diverting from cockpit drama to courtroom drama, and that is a clear misfire. I mean, it needn’t have been necessarily. But once again, the film spends a little too much time in building up the ‘swag’ of a character, this time of Amitabh Bachchan’s Narayan Vedant, who looks like a close cousin of Mohabbatein’s Narayan Shankar, to actually focus on writing a more succinct and effective second half.

Of course, Vedant is the exact opposite of Captain Vikrant’s character, and therefore, also quite similar too. A stickler for rules, thinks he won’t make a mistake, and confident beyond normal. I almost snorted when his character is shown to speak in shuddh Hindi, reprimanding others for not knowing what lie detector test is in Hindi, because of the whole Ajay Devgn and Sudeep Kiccha controversy on Twitter just a day before, and because it reminded me of Dharmendra’s character from Chuck Chuck, which Bachchan also starred in.

So anyway, this clash of the Titans which you’d expect will bear fireworks, is a phuski and almost soporific, bringing down all the adrenaline from the previous half. Ek toh Big B’s character gets two iterations of every dialogue, one in Hindi and one in English, slowing down the pace considerably. Second, not that the first half of the film was any nicer to its female characters, who are a mess in the situation, deferring to the man to save the day, but the second half just makes it hella worse, reducing Rakul Preet’s character Tanya to a crying mess. Instead of being lauded for being the voice of reason in the cockpit, she gets treated cross-examined and humiliated during the inquiry. Sometimes I wonder why do these alpha male fests even have female characters when they aren’t going to do justice to them and code them as incompetent or incapable?

Also Read: ‘365 Days: This Day’ Twitter Review: Tweeple Ask The Plot, “Are You Lost Babygirl?”

Runway 34 does raise an important point about accountability and blame, but doesn’t bother fleshing it out well

At the end of the film, Ajay Devgn’s character makes an argument about how despite a bunch of external factors involved, when a plane crashes, the blame always lands on the pilot. And how it is always easier as a third party, handing out judgement over how things should’ve been done, but it is harder to be in the cockpit in the pilot’s seat and actually making those split-second decisions that could be the difference between life and death. It was an interesting debate that should’ve been explored more; instead, it is reduced to two lines in the climax monologue. 

Similarly, while the first half of Runway 34 builds up a hero before pushing him to a fall, when he emerges back up, it’s not like he’s changed much and learnt from his own overconfidence. Wouldn’t that have been a better point to make?

Verdict

Runway 34 is a half decent film that takes off well, and grips you tight until the interval, after which, the seatbelt comes off and all hell breaks loose. The clichés overdone in the first half, the drab courtroom drama in the second, and the abysmal treatment of its female characters throughout are the turbulence in this flight which could otherwise have been a smooth one. Watch it for Ajay Devgn and the flight action.

Runway 34 is currently in theatres.

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Jinal Bhatt

Sharp-tongued feminist. Proud nerd. Opinions with on-point pop-culture references about films, books, your toxic BF, the patriarchy, and the Oxford comma.

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