Moneycontrol PRO

Runway 34 review: Ajay Devgn carries off his role with swag, but the film hits turbulence

What begins as a taut aviation thriller crash lands into a tediously verbose investigative drama.

April 29, 2022 / 01:29 PM IST
Ajay Devgn as Captain Vikrant Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan as Narayan Vedant in 'Runway 34', which released in theatres on April 29, 2022.

Ajay Devgn as Captain Vikrant Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan as Narayan Vedant in 'Runway 34', which released in theatres on April 29, 2022.

Ajay Devgn directs and leads the cast in the aviation thriller Runway 34, which released in theatres on April 29.

The film is divided into two distinct parts—a thriller segueing into a dreary investigation chamber in which moral compunctions about the head pilot’s decision at a crucial time is probed in a verbose, long-drawn trial.

In the first half, a perilous commercial flight takes off in Dubai and heads towards Kochi, when turbulent weather and a shortage of fuel challenges the two pilots on board, Captain Vikrant Khanna (Devgn) and the junior pilot Tanya Albuquerque (Rakul Preet Singh) have to take some difficult decisions.

Vikrant spends a raucous night out in Dubai before he is to pilot the flight with Tanya, whom he meets for the first time before the flight. Vikrant has to be with his family the next day for his daughter’s birthday. A storm makes the flight turbulent for the 150 passengers on board including an elderly Parsi lady with asthma. The two pilots first disagree on what course of action to take—to divert the flight or take the chance to land on the runway of a neighbouring city’s airport.

For aviophobics, this will be a nightmare to watch. The in-flight scenes are terrifyingly real, and the suspense builds up effectively as the duo in the cockpit faces the choice to manoeuvre the flight amid thick clouds and lightning with little or no visibility. Vikrant’s decision prevails, and after the ordeal is over, he is summoned by the aviation accidents investigative bureau headed by Narayan Vedant (Amitabh Bachchan) to prove that his choice to try and save the 100-plus passengers on board was the right one.

Devgn’s character is reminiscent of Whip Whitaker played by Denzel Washington in the 2012 Hollywood aviation drama Flight, which also has a lead character whose instinct drives his decisions. Both films pivot around the implications of a miraculous landing. Whip goes through a harrowing journey of self-discovery. Vikrant similarly has some singular traits such as a photographic memory. Devgn carries off the role with a lot of swag and conviction. But the story by Sandeep Kewlani and Aamil Keeyan Khan, veers towards a face-off between two men—and two baritones. Bachchan’s Narayan Vedant is a formidable torchbearer of morality and right conduct and he grills both pilots using aggressively manipulative tactics. Bachchan is effortless as a man towering over the world, cushioned in his authority and moral servitude.

What is bravery? Can bravery emerge from individual strength and instinct or does it have to conform to a rulebook to be effective? These are some moral questions the trial tries to address. But the two disparate halves of the film don’t make much structural sense. It almost becomes two different films—the second half big on dialoguebaazi, Bollywood-style.

It is a thrilling ride mid-air, bang in the middle of a cyclone. On ground, Runway 34 is a deflated blimp.

Sanjukta Sharma is a freelance writer and journalist based in Mumbai.