Synopsis – By the early ‘80s, India had already witnessed multiple heinous airplane hijacks. In 1984, the country was made to face another such challenge. BellBottom, a RAW Agent played by Akshay Kumar sees through the plan and thus, begins India’s first covert operation. A story based on true events, led by BellBottom – a hero that went on to create one of the most defining moments of the country.
My Take – Marking as the first major Hindi film to release in cinemas after the deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first one to complete its shoot during the pandemic, it is suffice to say that director Ranjit M Tewari‘s espionage thriller had a lot riding on it.
Though right from its 1st promo, other than its 80s set backdrop, the film never seemed distinct from other patriotic themed Akshay starrers, and instead felt more like an amalgamation of Baby (2015) and Airlift (2016), despite claiming to be supposedly inspired by declassified documents, a certain reasonable hype was always attached to it.
Thankfully, while the film never shies away from being a conventional Bollywood drama headlined by a messiah-in-crisis hero who is driven by a tragic personal story, it does manage to be a 123 minute long fast paced emotionally charged action thriller backed by the always dependable Akshay Kumar, who continues to perfect the one man saving his country formula.
With its classic storytelling gusto and an undeniable strength to find terrains for optimism with every move, Akshay Kumar once again successfully manages to dramatize a real-life story into enjoyable fictional drama.
Set in 1984, the story follows Anshul Malhotra (Akshay Kumar) aka Bell Bottom, a RAW agent with some exceptional technical and linguistic skills, who lives a rather an ordinary life with his wife, Radhika (Vaani Kapoor). But duty calls when an ICC 691 flight carrying 210 hostages that took off from Delhi gets hijacked. While Indian PM Indira Gandhi (Lara Dutta) and her team of ministers are left perplexed with the fifth incident in seven years. Fearing this to be another political disaster if the plane is once again taken to Lahore to hold negotiations with President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan.
However, backed by his superior Santook (Adil Hussain), Anshul, who is driven not only by the call of duty, but also a personal loss, is convinced of ISI involvement, and convinces the PM to not compromise with Pakistan, an act which triggers a counter-reaction forcing the plane to land in Dubai, with whom both the countries share diplomatic relations.
Convinced that he can re-capture the hijacked plane and bring it back safely to India without any bloodshed and with all the passengers alive, Anshu, armed with limited aids, handful of agents and on ground support from Adeela Rehman (Huma Qureshi), he sets off on the impossible mission.
While the plot mostly takes predictable turns, the narrative manages to remain gripping throughout. The first half dives more into the backstory of Anshul’s entry into RAW and his interest in cracking the hijacking case at hand. The mother-son-daughter-in-law relationship is also sweetly done. In the process, the mission to save the hostages picks up only in the second half. What mainly works here is the sense of urgency.
Writers Aseem Arora and Parveez Shaikh don’t offer an all-new template but deliver a fast-paced, emotion-bound thriller with a reliable backing of old school humor. Director Ranjit M Tewari also manages to balance the grittiness and realism with the mainstream elements by taking you step by step to understand the process of the mission & leaves you on a high note with the implementation.
The research that has gone into the creation is visible in every frame. Even cinematographer Rajeev Ravi continues to distinguish himself between genres. This being his first stab at a commercial period drama brings together his tips & tricks from his best attempts. The massive scale of the film is outstanding; the makers have not shied away from spending to make it larger than life and for achieving this in the middle of the pandemic is commendable.
However, the film has its flaws. Clutched in the hands of moral parity, shabby compromises and exhausted vanity, the first half appears a bit sloppy and sluggish. Especially with the songs acting as speed breakers.
Without a doubt, Akshay Kumar nails yet another role, looking slick and suave in his retro look and for the most part holds the film with his performance. Though the film is mostly set on him, Vaani Kapoor, Lara Dutta and Huma Quereshi also manage to leave a mark every time they appear on the screen. Even though they have little screen time, they each have compelling parts in which they deliver.
In supporting roles, Adil Hussain, Dolly Ahluwalia, Denzil Smith, and Zain Khan Durrani are also excellent. On the whole, ‘Bell Bottom’ is a decent stylish spy thriller that manages to be edgy, entertaining and engaging.
Directed – Ranjit Tewari
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 123 minutes