Cast: Rishab Shetty, Hariprriya, Pramod Shetty
Rishab Shetty is on a roll. After directing two blockbusters, Kirik Party and Sarkari Hi. Pra. Shaale, Kasaragodu, Koduge: Ramanna Rai, he's back on the big screen as a swashbuckling detective. Director Jayathirtha, in Bell Bottom, makes his lead smoke pipes when he wants to show what Detective Divakar (Rishab) thinks of himself – a man who likes to be respected in his small town for the kind of skills he possesses. It's also a sign of seniority that he assumes in the town for being a cut above the rest. Beneath the trench coat and the hat he wears, there's an air of arrogance too. He feels he's too big to serve as a constable for the local police station. It's indeed true, but he's also the sort of person who'd fall into a 15-feet pit when he gets overwhelmed with joy.
Divakar is funny and clever, and most importantly, he's developed this personality by reading countless detective novels and watching movies of the same genre. Goa Dalli CID 999, the famous Rajkumar starrer which is inspired by the James Bond series, makes an appearance as a big influencer on Divakar's developing mind. When he's not smoking cigarettes, or pipes, he's seen munching on carrots. It's a character quirk that stands tall amongst his other indulgences, for there's a scene where a bunch of blind mendicants identifies him just by the sound he makes while eating carrots.
For a comedy thriller made with an unconventional lead, the details that have gone into establishing the world of Divakar are amazing. Initially, I thought that the gorgeously shot song, 'Yethake,' would be cut short for the theatrical version since Hariprriya plays only a love interest (named Kusuma). At least, that's how she's introduced. But when the song bloomed into a full-blown romantic interruption, it took me away from the thrills of watching Divakar's ingeniousness unfold piece-by-piece. 'Yethake' felt more like promotional material than a necessary element that held Kusuma's significance in the plot.
The first case that Divakar handles is of a married man who's gone missing. The wife files a missing complaint and the senior police officer (played excellently by Pramod Shetty) tells Divakar to solve it. And the constable seizes the opportunity with both his hands and begins the investigation. As he turns his gaze towards the complainant herself (the wife has murdered her husband with the help of her paramour), you realize that the next case is not going to be so easy. This is presented as a humorous episode and it's definitely inspired by several WhatsApp jokes and some true events that have taken place over the decades.
The film, which is set in the 80s, allows the scenes to breathe. Arvind Kashyap's cinematography captures the small lanes and mud roads of towns in all its gloriousness. The camera lingers on the faces of the characters for a moment longer before moving to the next scene, either to give you a red herring or to allow you to consume the little clues that are placed throughout the narrative.
Every character that speaks more than two lines has got something to do with the main case (the jewels that are recovered from the dacoits have gone missing from the police stations' lockers). As soon as Jayathirtha sets up the premise, the film starts riding on two horses – One: the hard-boiled nature of connecting the dots in the puzzle and eliminating the suspects; Two: maintaining the jubilant mood of Bell Bottom by not throwing grisly details on the screen.
The sparkling wit that comes through with the help of Raghu Niduvalli's dialogues is doubly enhanced by the body language of Rishab and the actors surrounding him. The scenes where Divakar shuns his father's (played by Achyutha Kumar) girlfriend for getting too close have many double entendres that'll surely send the teenagers into a frenzy.
Female characters, written by men, are usually one-dimensional. But Bell Bottom does a good job by having them play major roles in the film even though they're not entirely novel. Hariprriya won't disappoint you when she's given a meaty character. Here, the focus isn't only on her big kohl-lined eyes and that's a major relief since there are just a handful of films that employ women to move the story ahead.