By Jaideep Sarin
CHANDIGARH– Chandigarh may not be a historical city but the courage and determination of three personalities from here have put them on the country’s cinematic map.
“Neerja”, a film based on the youngest of these three, will release on February 19. It deals with the heroics of the then 23-year-old Pan Am chief flight purser Neerja Bhanot, who sacrificed her life to save the lives of several passengers from terrorists during a hijack on the ground at Karachi on September 5, 1986.
Two other blockbuster movies, “Border” (1997) had featured the battle of Longewala in which Chandigarh resident Brigadier Kuldip Singh Chandpuri (retired) had earned laurels, and in the more recent “Bhag Milkha Bhag” (2013), a biopic on ‘Flying Sikh’ and Chandigarh resident Milkha Singh, had highlighted his athletic racing days.
“I am happy that three people from Chandigarh have been featured prominently in Bollywood movies. It is a great coincidence. It is good to highlight achievements of people who have contributed for the country,” Brigadier Chandpuri, who was the first person from Chandigarh (population one million) on whom a Bollywood movie was made, told IANS at his Sector 33 residence here.
Chandpuri, who was a major during the 1971 India-Pakistan war, had held his post through the night in the famous battle of Longewala in Rajasthan with just 120 men against a full-fledged attack by advancing Pakistani Patton tanks. He was decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) – the second highest award for bravery in battle – for the heroic stand-off against the tanks and forcing the enemy to retreat.
“This is a nice coincidence that films have been made on three people from Chandigarh. It is very good that a film has been made on the courage shown by Neerja,” her brother Aneesh Bhanot told IANS here.
“By bringing the story back to the youth, the film is doing great service to the community. Many youths don’t even know her (Neerja’s) story. The film tells them that there is nothing to fear, even as a woman, from terrorists or anyone,” Aneesh said, adding that Neerja’s family, which resides in Sector 46 here, was very happy that her story was being recreated on screen.
While “Border” was based on real-life incidents, “Bhag Milkha Bhag” and “Neerja” are biopics.
The story of legendary athlete Milkha Singh, a resident of Chandigarh’s Sector 8, was highlighted in the Farhan Akhtar-starrer directed by Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra. The film was the top grosser in 2013.
As for braveheart Neerja Bhanot, her part in the film is being played by actress Sonam Kapoor. Director Ram Madhvani said that he was content with Sonam’s performance. Leading fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar has produced the film.
“Sonam has done complete justice to her performance in ‘Neerja’,” Madhvani said in Mumbai recently.
Neerja, who was the chief flight purser of Pan-Am 73 (Bombay-Karachi-Frankfurt-New York) flight, was killed in the shootout following the hijack. Libyan terrorists had entered the aircraft posing as Pakistani police personnel, carrying arms and hand grenades.
The hijack had left 20 people dead and 150 others injured after a bloodbath at the Karachi airport. There were around 200 Indian passengers on the flight, of whom 13 died while over 100 were injured.
Following her act of bravery and supreme sacrifice, Neerja was posthumously conferred the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award for bravery, in 1987. She became the youngest and first woman recipient of the gallantry award.