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True story behind the Malayalam Movie Take Off
Take Off - A true story
The Malayalam movie "Take Off" was inspired by the kidnapping of 46 Indian nurses from Tikrit, Iraq and the grueling ordeal the nurses had to go through.The story of the abduction is well known in Kerala. But the details surrounding the kidnapping is still vague to the general populace. "Take off" addressed most of the events surrounding the evacuation coherently.
Directed by the debutant Mahesh Narayan starring Fahad Fazil, Kunjako Boban and Parvathy in main roles, the film was an honest effort by some talented filmmakers and actors who wanted to try something different from the usual dance - romance - hero saves the dame routine of the Malayalam as well as Bollywood film industry.
The Film tried to portray the evacuation process and all its complications sticking to the facts, earning rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.
This article aims to put light on the plight of the kidnapped nurses, the grit showed by them at the time of adversity and the dedication of the officials who supervised the evacuation.
Sets created for the movieClick thumbnail to view full-size
The ISIS (Islamic state of Iraq and Al-shama), a dreaded terrorist organization captured 46 nurses of Indian origin from Tikrit (the birthplace of Saddam Hussein). Most of them were from the southern state of Kerala. The Indian government soon started a hefty evacuation process ultimately culminating in the successful evacuation of all the 46 nurses.
The onslaught on Iraqi soil by ISIS was aimed at creating a separate caliphate for Sunni Muslims. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi leads the organization. Like the infamous Mullah Omar of the Taliban, little is known about him. It is believed he was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad in 1971 and joined the insurgency that erupted in Iraq soon after the 2003 US-led invasion.
ISIS claims to have fighters from the UK, France, Germany and other European countries, as well as the US, the Arab world, and the Caucasus. The British Government has confirmed that their citizens have been fighting for the ISIS in Iraq.
Iraq - Map
According to 'The Hindu' India's newly appointed National Security Advisor (NSA) Mr. Ajit Doval and Intelligence Bureau Director Mr. Asif Abraham steered the evacuation process. They flew to the war-stricken Iraq to help the thousands of stranded Indians including the 46 Nurses.
At the End of June, the situation of the Indians stranded seemed bleak with no proper communication with the rebel groups nor with adequate support from the Al-Maliki Govt.
The presence of Ajit Doval in Iraq enabled India to make high-level contacts on the Iraqi government, which ultimately resulted in the escape of the nurses from terrorists.
Asked if National Security Advisor Ajit Doval played any role in the negotiations to get the nurses released, the MEA spokesperson Mr. Syed Akbarudin said at the diplomatic level, negotiations involved External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj herself but, at the ground level, the details cannot be shared.
His exact words being "Diplomacy works through the front doors. We are using other doors and how those doors were used and knocked on and how they were opened up is a story for another day. The story for today is that one of those doors opened and we were able to extricate our nationals,".
Aiding the nurses in every move was the Indian ambassador to Iraq Mr. Ajay Kumar, an Indian Foreign Service Officer from 2001 batch. He has previously served in Iran and Bahrain.
Ajit Doval and Ajay Menon visit Baghdad.
- Setting up integrate operations control cell.
- Persuading the militants to drop off nurses at Kurd check point.
- Evacuating nurses by an Air India plane.
The Air India set up an integrated operations control cell in New Delhi for obtaining ground handling, over flying clearances and DGCA clearance.
With proper and expert intervention by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the state govt. of Kerala, the rebels succumbed to the Indian demand of evacuation without much ado. The chief minister of Kerala, Mr. Oomen Chandi was in direct contact with the nurses, which was a huge relief for the fear-stricken nurses.
The militants agreed to drop the nurses off at a checkpoint in Kurdistan (autonomous province controlled by the ethnic Kurd population). They were later picked up by the Kurd Peshmerga forces and were subsequently evacuated by Air india-160 flight.
Lead actresses from the filmClick thumbnail to view full-size
Should the West send ground troops to Iraq?
Hurdles faced at the last moment
When the bus carrying the nurses failed to show up at the checkpoint in Kurdistan, things started getting a little tense. Finally, contact was made with the militants and after a long stand-off with the officials, the militants agreed to drop off the nurses at the border.
Permission was denied to the special plane granted by the Indian govt. to land at the Erbil airport due to the reasons that were unclear. The airplane had already turned around and set its course to India when it was granted the permit.
The pilot returned but had to get clearance from Tehran to cross Iranian airspace again. The workers were not paid wages, so they had to be persuaded by officials to board the plane.
Now another crisis arose as the plane was short on fuel. After relentless phone calls from MEA to Iraqi govt. the plane was finally refueled. The next obstacle came when the fuel company wanted cash as down payment. After reaching an agreement the plane finally took off at about 4 am IST.
Evacuation of the first batch of Indian nationals from Iraq cost the government about 160,000 US Dollars as per the officials involved in the evacuation process.
How accurate is the film. ?
The main protagonist, Sameera is inspired by the story of Marina Jose, a veteran nurse who previously worked in middle east and Kerala. A snip of lead actor Parvathy standing alongside Marina Jose is shown at the end credits of the film.
The Coordination between various departments inside India is shown brilliantly. Ajay Kumar, Indian Ambassador to Iraq at the time of the ordeal is portrayed by a seasoned Fahad Fasil.
Fahad excels in the role with ease. Ajay Kumar did play an important role in the evacuation of the nurses. He was in constant touch with Marina Jose and supervised the efforts from the ground by negotiating terms of their release.
A prominent Malayalee businessman is shown helping the nurses in the negotiation process. The accuracy of such a deal is disputed, but multiple sources at different points of time have indeed confirmed that help was sought from different wealthy middle-east based businessmen.
Also, common sense dictates that such a dreaded group will not release their abductees without receiving some form of payment or favor in return.
Lead Actress Parvathy with Marina Jose
The future of the nurses
Most of the nurses who were in Iraq had unpaid debts or were from poor families. With their only job lost, the situation of the nurses and their families looked bleak.
But soon after the evacuation process, Job offers came pouring in from different sections of the society including influential non-residential Indians (NRI's). Having survived such a long ordeal the nurses now have a promising future ahead of them.
A leading UAE-based Indian business person, Dr. B.R. Shetty of the NMC Healthcare Group has offered jobs to 46 Indian nurses who returned to their homeland. The nurses were stranded for almost a month in the war-torn region.
The ordeal was an eye opener for both the union and state governments of India. Lack of job opportunities along with low pay scale was the main reason behind the migration of the nurses.
The Indian government should seriously consider raising the wages of nurses and should also be able to create more job opportunities thereby preventing brain drain.
And the government should take appropriate steps to evacuate the remaining Indian nationals who are still stranded and trapped in the war-torn country.