It took two Bollywood superstars considerable muscle and firepower to extract Indian citizens trapped in conflict zones – Akshay Kumar in Airlift and Salman Khan in Tiger Zinda Hai. In Pranay Meshram’s Akelli, a petite Nushrratt Bharuccha takes on fearsome Islamic State militants all on her own. Implausibility is the film’s biggest problem, not because a woman cannot be brave but because the hurdles in her path are so easily vaulted over.

The sole support of her mother (Piloo Vidyarthi) and niece (Mannat Duggal), Jyoti (Bharuccha) is forced to seek work at a factory in Mosul in Iraq. She is told by the agent (Rajesh Jais) that it is safe, but no sooner does she arrive, she sees a girl blow herself up.

Going back is not an option. At the factory, things go smoothly at first, with a romance brewing with the charming Pakistani manager Rafiq (Nishant Dahiya) until IS terrorists arrive to abduct the women.

Their barbaric leader is the lollipop-sucking (Amir Boutrous), whom Jyoti quickly despatches with a single push. She finds herself trapped in the harem of the dreaded Assad (Tsahi Halevi). Her beauty supposedly inures her to the violence inflicted on other young women.

Although Jyoti’s presence of mind and strong will are admirable, the scripting contrivances (Meshram, Gunjan Saxena, Ayush TiwarI) invariably get her to the right place at the right time. Like the recent Gadar 2, here too armed men cannot hit a target in front of them simply because the protagonist is in the crosshairs.

The film gets so enamoured of its heroine’s resourcefulness and pluck that it underplays the plight of other women trapped in the war. Just when the story looks like it’s ending, a long episode is tacked on, by which time Jyoti’s adventure has curdled into get-it-over-with tedium.

Casting Nushrratt Bharuccha instead of an A-list actress gives the film the slight advantage of unpredictability. Bharuccha throws herself into the part, but not to the extent of mussing up her make-up and hair. However, she can be lauded for her confidence in propping up a film without another known actor (except maybe Fauda’s Tsahi Halevi in a thankless part).

Akelli (2023).