Runway 34 is a curious creature. Not least because of the story structure that neatly divides itself into two halves and two genres — the first half, a thriller and the second, a courtroom drama. Ajay Devgn, the filmmaker, deftly handles the suspense in the first half and the flight-bound setting. The film begins with a fantastic aerial shot from the plane’s PoV, which adds to the screenplay and is visually skilful. Devgn and editor Dharmendra Sharma edit the first part of the film perfectly with smooth transitions and intercuts.
But the reflective thoughtfulness required of a courtroom drama seems to escape him. This becomes apparent in the way he tries to invent drama with close-ups of the wife, meant to make us anticipate a rift between her and Vikranth (Ajay Devgn). The change in pace and treatment also explains why Angira Dhar’s corporate lawyer character is over-the-top, cocky, and animated. The way she throws her handbag and interprets her client’s answers to a polygraph as if it’s an exact science are all signs of a filmmaker trying to add vibrancy to a sombre affair.
The problem isn’t just the jump in the treatment, though. After the near-perfect first half, the viewer expects an equally good second half. The film not just fails to deliver in terms of craft, but the writing, too, falters. Any gripping courtroom drama should know to withhold information that can keep the characters and, in turn, the audience on their toes. But since we know everything and can predict the end, the engagement is minimal. The only trick up the investigative officer’s sleeve is the mysterious bottle of gin. Even if the camera’s counterproductive gaze tries to reveal it before its time, the device works to an extent. But nothing can distract the viewer because the sleek and stylish Captain Vikranth Singh is squarely at fault here.
People around him call him a hero because they don’t know that he also created the problem he so miraculously solved. But what excuse does the film have? Why is its gaze so reverential and forgivable? Narayan Vedanth (Amitabh Bachchan), the officer from AAIB, who is merely doing his job, is the antagonist. The feather-like co-pilot, Tanya Albuquerque, is always nervous and apologetic for mistakes that aren’t hers. While Bachchan easily shines in his character, Rakul Preet Singh whimpers under the weight of a character who is written as an exposition device and a counterpoint to Vikranth. You’ll get the rule-abiding coward if you don’t want the daredevil. Those are your only choices.
The rude and reckless genius of Vikranth is celebrated. Even when his wife (Aakanksha Singh) tells him to stay grounded, it’s only so he can say something to the effect of “a pilot should always fly.”
This brings me to the dialogues. They are less about the situation and more about the man of the hour and his swagger. Observe the drastic changes in the line of questioning between Vikranth and Tanya after they land. They ask her straightforward questions because her answers aren’t important. On the other hand, Vikranth only gets asked questions that can amplify his cool. This is still fine. After all, he is the lead, but is he worth all the worship? The man who introduces himself as ‘Captain Vikranth Singh’ when only a name was asked, the man who is rude and dismissive of his co-pilot and generally unpleasant, needed to save many a cat, as Blake Snyder would say, to appeal to a viewer.
This is not me saying that there isn’t a place for a character who is messy and flawed, but there is a way to go about it. Either cast someone who is innately warm so that some complexity can seep in; Ajay Devgn is fine as the pilot, but he never manages to humanise the character. Or acknowledge your character’s flaws in the writing, so the viewer can agree and move on. Runway 34 is a technically sound film with great cinematography and sound design, that does neither. It strongly plasters itself on the side of the man. Instead of hiding the flaws, the film ignores them. His rash and wrong decisions aren’t contested because he is a genius with a photographic memory. ‘Cool pilots’ used to be a thing because air travel was a luxury. Now that most of us can afford it, we’d rather our pilots be dutiful. We’d much prefer a Tanya Albuquerque over a Vikranth, and the film’s failure to understand this hurts it more than a little.
This Runway 34 review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.