Runway 34 Movie Review: Ajay Devgn, Amitabh Bachchan Movie Crashes In Gloomy Courtroom

Runway 34 movie cast: Ajay Devgn, Rakul Preet Singh, Amitabh Bachchan, Boman Irani, Aakansha Singh, Angira Dhar, Ajey Nagar
Director of Runway 34: Ajay Devgn
Runway 34 movie rating: 2.5 stars

A top-flight pilot, in charge of a flight from Dubai to Kochi, must bring all his vaunted expertise to bear in the face of bad weather and deteriorating visibility. Is he successful?

Is that even a question? The most effective disaster films keep both the stakes and the suspense high, but in ‘Runway 34’, my heart was never in my mouth. Partly because the real-life incident the film is based on (a 2015 flight from Doha to Kochi had a successful trajectory), and partly because it has an invincible Bollywood hero at the helm.

When a mainstream film is so completely controlled by an A-lister (Devgn is producer-director-star), it’s inconceivable that there’s any complexity in it, whether in the creation of the characters or in the way it’s is told. So going in, we know the kind of film we’ll be getting – put together in broad brushstrokes, easy to consume, and where the hero emerges victorious. However, Devgn manages to deliver a fairly effective pre-interval part despite its inelegant and underlined tracks, helped enormously by the computer graphics and menacing background music. And then he falls prey to the perils of the second half and crashes into a dreary Civil Aviation courtroom.

The flight begins with the usual settling in, people drop their bags in the upper cabins, the stewardesses pacify the boorish flyers (there’s almost always one who’ll beg for more whiskey as soon as the flight takes off), the cabin crew make announcements, and a few more sketchy people than others – aside from the moody guy, there’s a Parsi mother-daughter duo, a young Muslim mom with a constantly crying baby, a smart young man with a phone camera that constantly records (Ajey Nagar aka the very famous irl YouTuber CarryMinati), a bearded aviation journalist who asks the crucial question: if the weather in Kochi is bad, why divert to nearby Trivandrum where the weather can be just as terrible, and why not to Bangalore, a much safer choice?

That’s what Captain Vikrant Khanna (Ajay Devgn) asks his first officer Tanya Albuquerque (Rakul Preet Singh). This question hangs in the thick air, as fuel dips, wind picks up, torrential rain hits and the plane flies through the kind of turbulence that is a nightmare for everyone involved: passengers, increasingly alarmed crews and air traffic control officers, all of whom gape and applaud the pilot who throws the dreaded Mayday signal, but manages, at the very last minute, to pull a genie out of the bottle.

In his zeal to paint Vikrant as a hero, despite obvious signs of transgression (partying all night, too many awake hours), he is transformed into a savior with a photographic memory whose heart is in the right place. And to that end, the plot reduces all other actors to small roles. Boman Irani as a shrewd airline owner, Aakansha Singh as Vikrant’s supportive wife, Angira Dhar as a lawyer, even Amitabh Bachchan as his main antagonist, as a thunderous, intimidating and fluent in Hindi, whose job it is to determine responsibilities. Rakul Preet Singh is able to do more than just be a frightened presence in the cockpit, but she’s downright unlucky, and the Bachchan-Devgn showdown never really takes off.

In all of this – with the details suspended, the jury silent onlookers, and the tricky questions brushed under the rug – the one who stays the course is Devgn, with a performance that fits perfectly into his film.

About Debra D. Johnson

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