The character of Ranjit Katyal played by Akshay Kumar in Airlift is a fictional one. The 2016 movie has been a run-away blockbuster but people who have been trying to find out where the real Ranjit Katyal is now, have been disappointed to know that there was no such man. But that does not take away the realism away from the film based on the 1990 Gulf War; it is a factual account of the biggest air evacuation in history.
So who is the real hero of Airlift? It is not one, but two people – Sunny Mathews and late Mr. Harbhajan Singh Vedi who teamed together to ensure a smooth hassle-free evacuation of more than 1, 70, 000 Indians from Kuwait, back to their motherland.
Sunny Mathews, the real hero of Airlift, was a rich man with good connections in Iraq. When he saw the plight of Indians trapped in the war, he decided to take it upon himself and found help in Vedi, to ensure that as many Indians were safely evacuated as possible.
Sunny’s son George who saw the movie ‘Airlift’ loved it and had this to say about his superhero dad, “I don’t want to sound vain, but what my dad and his team did is a lot. They sacrificed a lot, but it just was not talked about much. Air India, which flew the people back, ended up getting most of the credit. And people who were evacuated could come back in a year or two, and people chose to forget the entire episode. My dad is not the kind who would even want credit for what he did. He helped people when he thought he should and that’s about it.”
George said that his father kept his cool in the most trying of circumstances and he not only ended up saving lives but even protecting valuables of many evacuees. He said that most people forgot about the heroic deed of his father, because the evacuees returned to Kuwait after two years, and lived life as normal. Air India went on to take most of the credit for the ‘Airlift’ and the media-shy father preferred to keep away from hogging any limelight.
George added that though this real Ranjit Katyal’s courageous act erased from the memory of most people in India, he is still remembered in Kerala because almost 80 percent of people who were evacuated were Keralites. In fact, at the end of the credit of the movie ‘Airlift’, it is mentioned that the film is a tribute to the two civilians, Sunny Mathews and Vedi.