Directed by: Ranjit Tiwary
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Lara Dutta, Vaani Kapoor, Huma Qureshi, Adil Hussain and Zain Khan Durrani
Writers: Aseem Arora and Parvez Shaikh
Cinematography: Rajeev Ravi
Edited by: Chandan Arora
Director Ranjit Tiwary’s Bell Bottom is based on the true events of the Indian Intelligence Agency, RAW’s first covert operation on foreign soil, following the terrorist hijacking of a passenger flight in 1984, supposedly masterminded by the ISI. To tackle the crisis at hand, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Lara Dutta, buried in prosthetics) assembles her top officials. As the inept government agency heads squabble and pass the buck among themselves, a senior RAW official (Adil Hussain) tells them that there’s only one man who can save the day: an expert analyst who specializes in hijacking cases. Anshul Malhotra aka Codename Bell Bottom (Akshay Kumar) is that saviour.
For this latest threat, the terrorists in question have the flight and its passengers held hostage in a runway in Dubai where Anshul and his team must go to conceive and coordinate a covert operation to somehow capture the terrorists and save the hostages while on foreign soil without any bloodshed – all while keeping local authorities and the Pakistani government in the dark.
It’s a riveting story which perfectly lends itself to a slick espionage thriller. And yet, while Bell Bottom is, for the most part, a decently-executed and coherent film, director Tiwary and writers Aseem Arora and Parvez Shaikh fail to give it that much-needed dose of nail-biting tension that a story like this deserves. The kind that differentiates between a competent movie to a compelling one.
And, while it may be based on a true story, how it’s told feels far too familiar. We’ve seen all these elements before and done better, in Akshay Kumar’s own previous films.
While it’s about navigating multiple authorities in a race against time to get all the passengers out alive, Bell Bottom doesn’t have the scale or slick execution of Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift. While it’s about conducting covert operations on foreign soil, it doesn’t have the edge-of-your-seat tension or thrilling action of Neeraj Pandey’s Baby. Or the joys of watching a carefully-crafted plan come together like Special 26.
If Bell Bottom were a Hollywood movie, the entire runtime would be dedicated to the nerve-racking events of the hijacking itself and how it unfolds. But this is a mainstream Hindi movie. So, of course, the real story only kicks in in the second half – with the first half dedicated to building up the legend of our hero, his backstory and his rise to becoming a super-agent. There’s also the customary romantic track with his wife (Vaani Kapoor), which includes an unnecessary and lazily shot love song.
The multiple hijacking scenes through the film are poorly-staged and at points, just laughable. At one point during the flight, the three terrorists, all seated separately with synchronized digital watches, have their alarms go off and immediately swing into action by aggressively prancing up and down the isles, screaming ‘hijack’ at the top of their voices. All of this, while one of them demands that all passengers hand over any sharp objects that they have, such as… nail cutters.
It’s also hard not to compare these scenes to the stellar hijacking sequences of Ram Madhvani’s atmospheric achievement, Neerja. Unlike in Bell Bottom, there, you could feel the exhaustion and psychological trauma of this ordeal in the air. Even outside the aircraft, the action scenes, like the writing, are serviceable but never quite remarkable. However, despite being a tad ridiculous, I enjoyed the final terrorist takedown sequence, which takes place during a sandstorm.
As the main man – Codename Bell Bottom – Akshay Kumar is what he always is… the righteous, supremely capable saviour. It’s a fitting performance but it’s nothing we haven’t seen from him before in other movies – where he had more conviction. None of the other performances particularly stand out or stick with you, but Zain Khan Durrani proves to be a worthy adversary as the cold and calculating terrorist mastermind. Impressive prosthetics aside, I also quite enjoyed watching Lara Dutta’s commanding presence as Mrs. Gandhi.
Unsurprisingly, the other female characters have little impact, and both Vaani Kapoor as Anshul’s wife and Huma Qureshi as a fellow RAW aide are poorly-written with nothing to do. As a lazy attempt to give them more depth and dimension, both characters are given weird twists in their arc, which either make no sense or are just plain silly. And once again, it has to be said that a star of Akshay Kumar’s age has a significantly younger actress playing his wife. To put it into perspective, if the age difference between them was a person, it could legally drink at this point.
Though it’s based on a true story, once again, Pakistan is the ‘real enemy’ here, even though the writers include a feeble line as Akshay Kumar’s character says something to the effect of – ‘I don’t blame the people of Pakistan. It’s just a few bad apples that are trying to attack our country.’
In the end, somewhere buried within Bell Bottom are the building blocks of a great thriller. It’s just shrouded in simplistic storytelling and ‘hijacked’ by the pressures of the big Hindi movie formula.
Bell Bottom can be watched at a theatre near you.