Director: Ranjit M Tewari
Writers: Aseem Arrora and Parveez Shaikh
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Lara Dutta, Vaani Kapoor, Huma Qureshi, Adil Hussain, Zain Khan Durrani
Cinematographer: Rajeev Ravi
Editor: Chandan Arora
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
On screen at least, there is nothing that Akshay Kumar can’t do. In film after film, he is in saviour mode, rescuing migrants, women, trans people. With an upright posture and determined gaze, the characters he plays uphold ideas of honour, sacrifice and the motherland. He is, above all, a patriot who in ways big and small, helps the tricolour to fly high.
BellBottom is no different. Here, Akshay is a RAW analyst – Anshul Malhotra, who among other things, is a National-level chess player who speaks German and French and is also skilled enough in music to give lessons. Little of this is organically used in the narrative. It is exposition meant to impress. But the truth is I was sold when Anshul is introduced, feet first, striding into the Prime Minister’s office. He’s wearing bellbottoms, fitting because that is also his code name. Rousing background score amplifies his presence. It’s the sort of instantly sexy entrance that can birth a franchise.
BellBottom, inspired by true events, is set in the 1980s, described as a time when hijacking had become rampant. A voiceover informs us that military action, diplomacy and intelligence agencies – everything has failed. There have been seven instances in five years. When one more aircraft is taken, BellBottom is called in. What makes him an expert? Personal stakes – his family has suffered.
This probably isn’t how crisis management at the PMO works but director Ranjit M. Tewari keeps the action humming. If you don’t ask too many questions, the plot moves despite the flashback to Anshul’s personal tragedy and unnecessary romantic interludes – Vaani Kapoor plays Anshul’s wife. Though Akshay is 54 years old, we are told that Anshul is 32, which is perhaps what the makers used to justify casting a much younger actress as his wife. In any case, Vaani is merely decoration. The real leading lady here is Lara Dutta playing Indira Gandhi. Make-up artist Vikram Gaikwad has done stellar work with the actor. You might not recognise her until you hear the familiar voice. Lara summons an imperious statesmanship and is solid as a woman who is smarter and tougher than the men who serve her.
Despite the loopholes in logic, the first half of BellBottom holds itself together. The narrative also benefits from the lively presence of Dolly Ahluwalia who plays Anshul’s feisty mother – it’s every energetic Punjabi matriarch cliché rolled into a character but she makes it fun. Then there’s Adil Hussain, who somehow adds a layer of intelligence to even the most banal scenes. And keep an eye out for Zain Khan Durrani as the baddie Doddy. He has a compelling menace.
BellBottom propels itself forward on a certain caper-style energy, slickness and scale. But in the second half, the storytelling starts to unglue. The plot becomes so outlandish that it’s difficult to stay invested. The latter hour of the film focuses on a rescue operation led by Anshul in Dubai. He lays it out for us, saying: 210 hostages, 7 hours, 4 hijackers. The odds are against us but to hell with the odds. A countdown builds a sense of urgency but the screenplay, written by Aseem Arrora and Parveez Shaikh, starts wobbling precariously.
It doesn’t help that the villainising of the Pakistani characters becomes shriller and the desh bhakti is laid on thick – Anshul says: Iss baar Hindustan nahi jhukega. Iss baar unki haar, which sounds suspiciously like an election slogan. The final straw is an act of nature, rendered in dodgy CGI, which is used by Anshul and his crack team to foil the hijackers. Even the heavens are on India’s side. This isn’t a spoiler – we’ve all seen enough Akshay Kumar films to know that he doesn’t lose.
The film ends with a twist, which is fun but tacked on rather than developed through the story. After watching this and Bhuj: The Pride of India, I have to ask – exactly how easy is it to land a job with RAW? In that film we were told that a character named Pagi India aa gaye aur RAW join kar liya. Here, we are told that RAW has talent spotters – does that mean that our premier intelligence outfit basically functions like a modelling agency?
Still, I think BellBottom has a few more adventures in him. If we do get a sequel, I hope the makers go for a pure spy story rather than trying to bung in romance, ma ka pyaar and on-the-nose patriotism.
You can watch the film on Amazon Prime Video