The politics of war is a tough subject deal to tackle on screen. One can go hyper on jingoism like many mainstream films have done so often. Or, you could try making a realistic, riveting fare. Akshay Kumar starrer BellBottom presents us with more than just good entertainment, in this context. Set in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when in a span of five years, seven Indian Airlines flights were hijacked from India, BellBottom is supposedly based on real-life missions and characters, but the disclaimer before the movie mentions that all characters and events in the film are fictitious.
Indira Gandhi (played superbly by Lara Dutta) holds the Prime Ministers’ chair, with her trusted aide, RN Kao (Denzil Smith), the founder of RAW, by her side. When an Indian aircraft carrying 210 hostages is hijacked in 1984, Gandhi is determined to stop them. A RAW undercover agent who goes by the code name ‘BellBottom’ is called in to save the day.
At 125 minutes, the first half of the film is spent establishing the premise. Akshay Kumar plays Anshul Malhotra, an ordinary man who is making his last attempt to clear the civil services exam and impress his mother (Dolly Ahluwalia). It also establishes his relationship with his wife (Vaani Kapoor). The backstory also shows Anshul’s entry into RAW and his interest in cracking the hijacking case at hand. The mother-son-daughter-in-law relationship is sweetly done. In the process, the mission to save the hostages picks up only in the second half.
BellBottom delivers the goods when it comes to non-stop thrills, mood, and style. What mainly works here is the sense of urgency. Our hero sticks to the mission instead of venturing towards song and dance and even though he’s larger than life, he remains in a fairly realistic mode. This is a mainstream film, but there is no slo-mo bullet-time rubbish. There’s some interesting hand-to-hand combat, and director Ranjit M Tewari somehow manages to balance the grittiness and realism with the masala of commercial films. It’s quite refreshing to see a film that caters to its target audience and at least tries to not insult it.
There are some flaws as well. The timeline in the first half had me so confused that I couldn’t figure out whether we are in the present time, the flashback, or a flashback within a flashback. Also, the build-up to the climax is excellent but the climax really leaves you wanting for more.
Kumar deserves credit for choosing such scripts. The film shows his usual swagger. He gives a more restrained performance, something that is unusual for him. The actor owns the screen from the word go and carries the film effortlessly on his shoulders.
The rest of the casting of the film is done really well. Lara Dutta as former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is first-rate. The actress gets into the skin of the character and gets the perfect body language. Adil Hussain as Kumar’s boss is as usual brilliant. Huma Qureshi has a dazzling little role while Vaani Kapoor is confident and convincing in her limited scenes.
Written by Aseem Arora and Parveez Sheikh, BellBottom is a decent effort with some edge-of-the-seat moments. The research that has gone into the creation is visible in every frame. However, despite all of it, the last bit of the film looks hurried. It is almost like the filmmaker too couldn’t wait to finish the film and get home, just like BellBottom’s attempts to rescue the hostages and get them back home.
In all, BellBottom is a story of unparalleled courage and unsung heroes. the unknown names in RAW and the sacrifices they make in personal life. The film surely deserves a watch.