Sometimes when a film that you are watching disturbs you a lot, moving you in a way that you are probably not too prepared for, it’s tough to really single out any particular moment from it which truly shook you. While Mahesh Narayanan’s Take Off is a film that works on almost all counts, however I definitely do wish to point out something that in particular is an arresting moment from the film. During the interval block we see Ibru/Ibrahim, the son of Sameera (Parvathy Thiruvoth) and Faizal (Asif Ali) in great distress. Well the 8 year old boy was unaware that his parents have been divorced for a while and that Sameera is now married to Shaheed (Kunchacko Boban), not just that she’s also now pregnant as well. On somehow sensing all this and not being comfortable with the realization, Ibru runs away from the hospital premises that they are in, only to be followed in close pursuit by Sameera and Shaheed. He doesn’t however end up running far though, as the film pauses for the interval break, we see violence erupt in the background, even as a deeply disturbed Ibru clings on to Sameera. Forget everything else, this moment alone is worth the ticket price of the film; it only reminds you that editor Mahesh Narayanan has made a fantastic debut as filmmaker now.
Sameera is a nurse who lives with her family in Kochi and runs the household. Married earlier to Faizal who lives in U.A.E with their son Ibru, she is now divorced and her focus is on taking care of her family’s needs. In this pursuit she decides to take up a 2 year assignment in war torn Iraq along with some of her colleagues which includes Shaheed. He is deeply in love with Sameera, and has no issues with her background. Though Sameera tries to maintain a distance from Shaheed, eventually she does go on to get married to him as she realizes that it is the only way to stick to her plan of going to Iraq despite some concern from her relatives. Though her pregnancy makes Sameera worried, Shaheed encourages her and supports her all the way and they land up in Iraq. But even before they could even settle in properly, the conditions in Iraq worsen and Shaheed and his team get caught by militants in Mosul where they had gone on relief work, even as the hospital in Tikrit where Sameera, Ibru and the nurses are stationed in is taken over by militants as well. The rest of the film tells us how Manoj (Fahadh Faasil), the Indian Ambassador to Iraq goes about planning the rescue and evacuation of the 19 nurses who are stranded unfortunately amidst the war zone.
Based on the real ordeal of the nurses from India who were stranded in Tikrit in 2014, the film does remind of you of the recent Bollywood film Airlift, thanks to the topic. But then thankfully the comparison doesn’t really extend to anything further as Take Off is a film with a strong identity of its own. Though the film slowly turns itself into a thriller with survival as its focus, the film is also primarily a drama with a lot of emotional upheavals which are deftly handled by Mahesh Narayanan. The writing by Mahesh and P.V.Shajikumar is impressive, placing a lot of focus on character development. In particular the film makes us focus on Sameera’s pain as she has to not just look after Ibru and be concerned about her colleagues, she is also in despair about Shaheed’s disappearance, more so because he remains out of contact for a long time. Sanu John Varghese’s cinematography is excellent, giving the film a feel of a docudrama which works very well for a film of this nature. Technically the film is impressive overall, the VFX work and production design clearly as good if not better than a far more expensive film like Airlift. This is certainly not a small achievement by any standard and Malayalam cinema should certainly look up to Take Off for inspiration in this respect.
The casting choices are excellent; of the supporting cast it’s Alencier Ley Lopez and Prakash Belawadi who register an impact. The scenes which feature Prakash and Fahadh are delightful, reminding us of how helpless they find themselves when it came to the issue of evacuating the nurses. It’s fantastic to see popular stars like Kunchacko Boban, Fahadh Faasil and Asif Ali sportingly playing the second fiddle to Parvathy. This is hopefully going to be a heartening trend that needs to be encouraged, it also helps that Take Off is an ensemble star cast film because the screenplay demands the same and not just for box office reasons alone. Asif Ali’s role is more of an extended cameo and he does well, this is easily among his better performances of late. Fahadh Faasil appears only in the second half but as soon as he makes his entry he cements his presence, making the second half quite lively with his performance. It’s been a year since we last saw him on screen, but if we appreciated Fahadh for his work in Maheshinte Prathikaaram, here he reiterates once again what a talented actor he is. Kunchacko Boban shows once again that he is a dependable actor and he plays Shaheed with a lot of dedication.
Time and again Parvathy has proved that she is very talented and with Take Off she once again reminds us that that she is indeed one of the best actors of her generation. Needless to say her portrayal of Sameera would in all probability be a major contender for all the acting honours meant for 2017. Take Off is a film with a lot of soul and quite easily makes it to my best of Indian films of 2017 so far. I know it’s still early days but I don’t really see too many films turning out better than Take Off in the rest of the year. Mahesh Narayanan makes a stunning debut as filmmaker with Take Off, this is a film with a heart and it deserves all the appreciation and support.