A woman caught in conflict zones, war within, war outside - Sameera (Parvathy) stands as the central figure in film editor Mahesh Narayanan's stunning directorial debut film Take Off. Based on real events, the film narrates the horrifying ordeal that 19 Malayali nurses went through in Iraq under the grim siege of the ISIS.
Given how routinely film industries across the country sexualize the nursing profession, including elaborate sequences of doctors and patients alike harassing them in the name of comedy, Take Off provides the real picture which is far from "glamorous". The film begins with images of nurses doing their job in difficult circumstances and war zones even as the titles play.
And then we meet Sameera, who is stifled by patriarchal restrictions every which way she turns. Divorced from her husband whose family found her ways too liberal (when the men sit down to eat, Sameera takes a plate for herself casually), convinced that she must work if she is to pay off the debt in which her parental home is immersed, and fighting the black bouts of depression that chase her thanks to her separation from her beloved eight-year-old son Ibru, Sameera is already a woman in the heat of many battles.
Parvathy plays the role with grit and great integrity. Her face without a touch of make-up expresses emotions effortlessly, sweeping us along in the flow.
Kunchacko Boban as the well-meaning Shaheed, Sameera's colleague who is interested in her, is a sea apart from the petty husband of How Old Are You? and though the script portrays him in positive light, one cannot but think that perhaps Sameera would have been better off had she been allowed to take certain decisions by herself. We catch a moment of Sameera's frustration when she finds that Shaheed has announced her unwanted pregnancy to the family but the story doesn't linger on the point.
Fahaadh Faasil plays the role of Manoj Kumar, an official at the Indian embassy in Iraq, who tries to help the stranded Indians who don't know which way to turn and whom to trust. His soulful eyes and understated performance complement the storytelling - there are only so many things you can do when essaying the role of a rescuer who doesn't ever lift a gun but Fahaadh makes himself effective.
Some of the portions in the latter half of the film are reminiscent of Bollywood's Airlift which was on the Gulf War - Prakash Belawadi who played an annoying Malayali in the film is also part of the cast of Take Off though he's on the other side of the table (he plays a government official) in this one. However, unlike the Akshay Kumar-starrer which eventually became a one-man army story, Take Off does not fall back on bravado to keep us invested.
Like Gadhamma which brought to us an unsavoury immigrant story, far removed from the happy ones of success that we like to read about, Take Off, too urges us to think about the many Indians who struggle for their livelihood in hard circumstances and alien countries. In the heart of the ISIS camp, Shaheed even finds a fellow Malayali, a terrorist run away from Kerala, and the two develop a gossamer thin bond - their linguistic and cultural identity bringing them together though their ideologies couldn't be more different.
As with any film on terrorism that gets made these days, there's enough emphasis on the fact that not all Muslims speak the language of violence. Some like Viswaroopam beat us with it (though poor Kamal Haasan still got into a politically motivated controversy over it) and some like Take Off convey it through a lot more subtle storytelling.
Though the background score falls to the cliched Arabic-sounding music every now and then to remind us of where the characters are, it largely works to build fear and dread in our minds as the film progresses.
With excellent performances and intelligent direction, Take Off is a must-watch.