It is not an ordinary feat when a twenty two year old girl saves the lives of three hundred and sixty people in extreme circumstances. But this act of incredible valour was undertaken by Neerja Bhanot, an Indian Flight Attendant, who went beyond the call of her duty and showcased an exemplary deed of kindness which is bound to reinstate one’s faith over humanity.
On a fateful day in September, 1985, Neerja was the senior flight purser on the ill fated Pan Am Flight 73, flying from Mumbai to USA. Little did she know, that it would be the last flight of her life. The aircraft was hijacked by a group of terrorists who aimed at targeting all the American passengers on board. While rest of the cockpit crew escaped abandoning the passengers, Neerja, being the senior most cabin crew on board took control. She showing a keen presence of mind, became instrumental in concealing the passports of all the American citizens thereby saving many a lives. After holding the passengers hostage for seventeen hours, when the terrorists opened fire, Neerja while shielding three children, fell prey to the bullets. Like the rest of the crew, she also could have escaped and saved her own life. But, that is what distinguishes her from an ordinary person. She was courage personified and at such a young age ,faced an ordeal, the thought of which is enough to send shivers down your spine.
This incident happened in 1985, when I must have been a two year old girl. I must confess that, until recently, I was ignorant of the story of Neerja bhanot. Then some months ago, I saw the picture of bollywood actress Sonam kapoor dressed up as a charming flight attendant. The pictures floated everywhere, on facebook pages, newspaper links and so on. That is when it dawned upon me that, the aforesaid actress was going to act in a biopic based on a woman called Neerja bhanot. When I further read about her, I was both intrigued and baffled. The act of bravery was so supreme that it seemed almost unreal. No wonder, she became the youngest recipient of Ashok Chakra( the highest peace time gallantry award of India), along with a host of bravery awards from US and even Pakistan.
The movie which is aptly christened “Neerja”, tells the tale of an ordinary girl who performed an extraordinary feat. Though grapevine is ripe with talks of whether Sonam kapoor will be able to do justice to the role of Neerja, I am ecstatic. I am jubilant because, when the movie hits the theatres, people will know the story of a brave heart. People will know how a young girl went beyond the call of her duty and made us all proud. People will know, how her parents still commemorate their valiant daughter every year by honoring two women who have displayed such acts of bravery that shone through. Whether, the movie will be a blockbuster or not, I cannot anticipate, but one thing I can say with certainty is that, it will help reach ‘Our Neerja’ to every nook and corner and if even for a couple of hours, in the cozy seats of a cinema hall, people will remember a girl who made a difference and made us believe that humanity surpasses all, the movie will have achieved its purpose.