While Shabana Azmi did a wonderful job reprising the role of playing Neerja Bhanot’s mother, the real Rama Bhanot was a picture of liveliness, positive energy and courage just like her daughter.
Rama and Neerja were quite close, the mother would take special pride in her daughter. Dealing with her daughter’s passing away was a jolt to Rama, but she always believed that her daughter was alive in her heart. She accepted the Arjuna Award (bravery award for highest civilian honor) on behalf of her daughter for her valiant act of saving 379 lives on-board the PAN AM Flight 73 on September 5, 1986. When she had to fight tears taking the award, the president Zail Singh had told Rama that she should be proud for giving birth to such a courageous daughter. This scene is shown in the movie ‘Neerja’ where Shabana Azmi talks about how blessed she was to have a daughter like Neerja.
Rama Bhanot was of the opinion that America should have compensated for the fearless work that Indian air-crew has done, instead of just paying their crew, who did nothing but vanish from the scene. She said that she was pained by the partiality shown by America, at that time. Just like Shabana Azmi says post the climax in the film Neerja, Rama would always advise her daughter to protect herself and run for cover, if there was a tense situation. Neerja would reprimand her mother, and say that she would rather lose her life than run away.Rama was MA in Classical Music, who also worked as telephone operator in the mid 80s.
Rama was enamored by Sonam Kapoor who played Neerja, but believed that her daughter was better looking. She died few days before the trailer of the movie was due to be released, at the age of 88, on December 5, 2015. Her sons said that instead of mourning over the loss, they celebrated a long and positive life. Here is the real story of Neerja Bhanot.