Take Off has been one of the most-awaited films this year for several reasons - it has Parvathy playing the central character, it will mark Fahadh Faasil's first movie after over an year and most importantly it's based on the real-life story of the rescue of 46 Indian nurses who were stranded in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, Iraq, when IS militants took over the city in 2014.
With the story being familiar, the challenge awaiting the director was presenting the plot in an engaging manner, taking cinematic liberties. And Mahesh along with co-scriptwriter PV Shajikumar does it with aplomb.
Instead of focusing on the rescue, the duo spends the lion's share of the first half fleshing out its protagonist Sameera (Parvathy), a 31-year-old divorcee and a strong-willed nurse, who works to pay her loans and put food on the table for her family. She soon lets her colleague Shahid into her life and the duo travel to Iraq in search of greener pastures. What awaits them in the strife-torn country is a life in peril. Soon, IS militants taking over the city and duo have to fight for their lives to make it out alive from the warzone. Aiding them from the side line is the shrewd Indian ambassador Manoj (Fahadh Faasil) as the Indian and Iraqi government seem helpless in the dire situation. The adversities Parvathy and the group of nurse’s face under IS captivity and how they endure them form the rest of the plot.
The production design of the movie could very well rival Airlift, Bollywood's film on the evacuation of Indians based in Kuwait during the Gulf War. And for a Malayalam film, that's an achievement that everyone in the crew could be proud of.
Parvathy as Sameera is exceptional conveying the character's mindset as challenges keep surmounting - while balancing her family life along with work or trying to keep calm when she is on pins and needles about what would happen next as the group is held captive by the militants. Her scenes while pleading to the ambassador for locating Shahid or when the diplomat ultimately tells her what happened to Shahid tug at the heartstrings.
She carries the movie on her own and ably supporting her are Kunchacko Boban and Fahadh Faasil. Kunchacko pulls a restrained and subtle performance as Shahid, who also serves as the undying ray of hope in Sameera's life. Fahadh as the Indian ambassador is suave and brings a sense of urgency to the proceedings; his expressions of contempt and impudence at his senior officials add a few doses of heroism in the film. Asif Ali, Prem Prakash and Prakash Belawadi excel in their cameos.
The film's strength apart from Parvathy's stellar performance though is the script. Never once does it slack - despite the first half being a drama. The director also ensures that in between the taut screenplay, the movie addresses the plight of nurses who travel abroad seeking employment to pay off loans, to take care of their family and for better prospects even if it means putting their lives on the line. The last few scenes of the movie though falls short of being edge-of-the-seat moments. Sanu Varghese's shots keep the audience engaged and thrust them into the warzone in the second half.
Take Off is a brilliant take on a real-life tale and with the director's own spin on the incidents; it makes an engaging cinematic experience that could give even Bollywood movies of similar genre, made at much-bigger budgets, a run for their money.