Track 34 is timeless as it lacks a sense of urgency even while telling a life or death story.
Runway 34the new Hindi film directed by Ajay Devgn, is inspired by real events, as the trailer has already told us.
It is an aviation thriller divided into two parts. The first focuses on Captain Vikrant Khanna of Devgn, an airline pilot, and an episode that could have led to tragedy when he landed on a flight in Thiruvananthapuram with zero visibility in bad weather. Bachchan comes into the picture in the second half as Narayan Vedant, an investigator who investigates the causes of this near-disaster.
The segment devoted entirely to Vikrant and his co-pilot, Tanya Albuquerque, in the cockpit and the minutes before landing are well directed. The production design, deft editing, and back and forth between the two main characters keep this part of the narrative ever engaging.
Outside the cockpit however, Runway 34 is marked by generic storytelling, a flippancy to its own content, and details that even a non-expert would watch.
Devgn plays Devgn, which is fair enough since he seems comfortable playing a driver with swag in his looks and a touch of arrogance in his confidence. Bachchan plays Bachchan.
The clashes between Vikrant and Narayan are oddly unexciting, though surprisingly humorous at times, minus the bombshell that might have ended up in more stereotypical Bollywood fare.
That said, we must not forget that Narayan is played by the Bachchan. The character is given a quirk to match the veteran star image – a tendency to use fancy vocabulary that most people don’t understand. Veere Di Marriage taught the masses the Hindi word for “orgasm”, Runway 34 should do the same for “homesickness” and “the ostrich”.
The performance to talk about comes from Rakul Preet Singh which brings an endearingly youthful tremor to Tanya’s mix of admiration for her senior co-worker and confusion about her behavior at work, including a fleeting moment of trivialization towards him, her continued loyalty to him, and her innate honesty. She is respectful but refrains from being an obsequious fangirl, in a profession rarely attributed to women in Hindi cinema.
In fact, of the three, Tanya is the only one written comprehensively and convincingly. On the other hand, while portraying Vikrant as a minor jerk, the writing staff still retains this aspect of his character, perhaps to avoid making him too less of a superhero than a conventional Hindi movie hero. always tends to be.
One way to do this is to leave at least one question about Vikrant’s in-flight decisions unanswered despite the repeated assertion that Narayan is a meticulous and fearsome detective.
Devgn, as director, generally does not attempt to melodramatize proceedings beyond the melodrama intrinsic to his script, although a scene added to heighten Vikrant’s emotional involvement in his near-death flight experience m left me wondering which airline publishes their pilots’ mobile phone numbers to passengers. Runway 34 isn’t too dramatic, but it’s not dramatic enough either.
What keeps Runway 34 flat despite the gripping in-flight crisis is the failure of the writers to inject tension into Narayan’s investigation or to give the storytelling and characters depth – genre depth that perhaps could come from a certain degree of cultural awareness?
For example, the action moves between Dubai, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Mumbai, and a viewer must understand that changes have been made from conversations and not from a changing socio-cultural or geographical landscape.
Every place in Runway 34 looks antiseptic, as if it could be anywhere in the world, or was generated on a computer. The broad brushstrokes in the writing and art design outside of the shot also have the effect of making the timeline of the tests performed on Khanna and the initial interrogation a bit confusing.
Meanwhile, everyone all over Runway 34 speaks Hindi or Hindi + English, except for one character who breaks into Malayalam at one point and speaks it with such a terrible accent and pronunciation that you know he’s an actor who learned the lines by heart. I’m willing to accept that a Hindi movie might want a viewer to suspend disbelief and assume that characters have been assigned Hindi lines just to make the movie easier for a traditional Hindi movie viewer, but it’s appropriate also to note that Indian cinema in languages other than Hindi regularly features characters speaking Hindi and other languages to indicate the heterogeneity of their social background. Diversity can mean the difference between bland and richly detailed cinema.
One of the most hyped airplane movies in recent years was starring Tom Hanks defile (2016), which, while far from perfect, managed to hold attention throughout precisely because of the color it painted in the theater that plays out inside and out of the main man’s plane. Hindi cinema itself has done a brilliant job of the hijacking saga lately neerja (2016) by making its protagonist and settings so relatable that it ended up being not just a thriller but a very human story. When Runway 34 I was inside that cockpit with Vikrant and Tanya, my breath caught briefly for them, but before that watershed moment and afterwards, I felt detached from the proceedings despite my curiosity about the where the investigation would take us. Runway 34 is immemorial because it lacks a sense of urgency even when telling a life-and-death story.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5 stars)
Track 34 is in theaters now
Anna MM Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specializes in the intersection of cinema with feminist concerns and other sociopolitical concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial