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Ship owners make documentary to slam bribing scene in Airlift, director Raja Krishna Menon responds


Hanif Modak and Captain VR Kekobad, co-owners of the ship MV Safeer, are miffed with the makers of the Akshay Kumar-starrer for showing that the captain took a hefty bribe to safely evacuate Indians from Kuwait. They have made a documentary to prove themselves which was screened at the ongoing LIFFT India Filmotsav. 

Captain VR Kekobad

Keyur Seta

Captain VR Kekobad and Hanif Modak, son of the late Captain IH Modak, co-owned the cargo ship MV Safeer under their firm Oyster Ship Management Pvt Ltd. They have come up with a documentary titled Mission Safeer which tells the heroic tale of how the ship safely evacuated 722 Indians from Kuwait when Saddam Hussain had invaded the country in August 1990. 

Their reason for making the documentary on this subject after nearly 30 years is director Raja Krishna Menon’s Hindi movie Airlift (2016), which stars Akshay Kumar in the lead. They are unhappy and miffed with a sequence in the film where the captain of the ship, which evacuated Indians to safety, takes a hefty bribe for the same. 

“When we have done free service, how you, just to get few more seats, put this scene that we have taken money? Your film is about [an] airlift, so what have you got to do with the ship? They were fully aware of what had happened. They deliberately mislead the public. They are trying to imply that from helpless passengers we took money,” said Kekobad in an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com after the screening of the film at the ongoing LIFFT India Filmotsav. 

Hanif Modak

He added, “If we wanted to become heroes, we would have blown our own trumpet in 1990 itself. And if we were only hardcore businessmen, we could have left the ship there, not worried about anybody and collected a princely sum from my insurance company. Instead, we made every possible effort to save people. So, that’s why it hurts.” 

He said that the SM Mathur, then second secretary of Indian Embassy at Kuwait had also boarded the ship, saw the shoot of the film in Jodhpur and was happy to know that a film is been made on it. “They airlifted over 17,0000 people. They deserved a massive amount of credit [through the film],” added Kekobad. 

But, according to Kekobad, Mathur was shocked after he saw Airlift. “When Mathur saw the movie, he said 95% of the movie was completely false. He wanted to meet the producer and the director. But he was not able to do so. He sent someone to Mumbai to meet the producers but they refused to meet him,” he said 

Kekobad also added that KP Fabian, then joint secretary of the ministry of external affairs, and others who spearheaded the mission were also very offended with the film. “They immediately gave out statements in the media. They also did a program called 'The Contemporary Narrative of Kuwait', where all the diplomats have said under what hardships they worked and Airlift has completely trashed their efforts,” he said. 

The said scene in Airlift features Kumar and Ninad Kamat who approach the ship's captain of the ship; he agrees to help take Indian passengers to safety from Kuwait after being paid an amount of 1 lakh dollars. 

Kekobad said that the movie had a negative impact on their reputation. “The people who know us, we don’t need to clarify to them. But the minute the movie came, a lot of people said how we all were saying that we saved people, but we took money for that,” he said. 
 
After not being able to break ice with the makers, Kekobad filed a defamation case in January this year against the makers of Airlift and star Akshay Kumar. When asked about its status, Kekobad said, “That will take a lot of time. You know what happens when a court case is filed. We are in the sessions court. It’s a long drawn affair. This is a David and Goliath battle. We are David and they are Goliath. They have deep pockets and connections. We are standing with our facts and original documentations.”

Kekobad said that as they are not from the film world, they took long to make this documentary. He added that currently they are taking it to various festivals. “We got selected in most of them and have been given awards. The expenditure is not very high to enter a film festivals. We are trying to reach out to the public by people like you,” he added.

He also dared the makers of Airlift for a debate. “I am ready to face any of them on any news channel for a debate and if they have got the guts, please come and face us. We want this to reach the government. We want them to acknowledge it as a factual documents of record,” he said. 

Director Raja Krishna Menon has for the first time reacted to the controversy in an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com. While defending Airlift, he said, “Our story is completely fictional as it says in the beginning [in the disclaimer]. All our characters are also fictional. There is no real person called Ranjit Katyal [Kumar’s character]. He is a fictional character. He is an amalgamation of various people [who had rescued Indians from Kuwait then]. The film is not a historical.”

Speaking about the scene, he said, “There is no reference to the ship called MV Safeer [in the movie]. We have never tried to show it as MV Safeer. We have just shown a ship. We never said it is this ship. The film is based on a true story. It’s not a true story. They [crew of MV Safeer] surely must have carried out this task. They deserve full credit for it.”

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