Bell Bottom Review: Akshay to the rescue
Bell Bottom is everything you would expect an Akshay Kumar starrer to be, in a continuation of his on-screen Mr Patriot avatar, Kumar fits role of savior of Indian citizens
Bell Bottom is everything you would expect an Akshay Kumar starrer to be, save a couple of surprises. Let’s talk of the regular bits first. Inspired from the real-life hijackings by Khalistani separatists in the 80s (which means mixing lots of fiction with a few facts), Ranjit M Tewari’s BellBottom has Kumar play a RAW agent on a mission to neutralize four hijackers and save 210 Indian hostages aboard an Indian Airlines flight.
In a continuation of his on-screen Mr. Patriot avatar, Kumar fits the role of the savior of Indian citizens and the keeper of national security like a glove. The national anthem and the Tricolor underline his victory towards the end as the film itself turns out to be cross between Kumar’s own Baby and Airlift.
Our spy has the codename Bell Bottom and yes, he wears them too. He is a jack of all trades, plays chess and music, knows French and German, is hoping to clear the UPSC exam and has a “backup for every backup”. His love for Mother India is grounded in his worship of his mother. Both mothers can do no wrong. So, the androoni maamlaat (internal affairs) of India are shown to be getting manipulated by videshi taaqat (foreign hand) as in Pakistan; more specifically by its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). ISI is held squarely responsible in fanning instability within India, even in the times of peace and funding terrorist outfits—Khalistani groups get fictionalized as Azaadi Dal, JKLF etc.
While Pakistani people are given a cursory thumbs up, the politicians and administrators—from President Zia Ul Haq to the ISI chief—to the hijackers to even the Pakistani biscuits are seen in a sinister light which borders on the laughably ridiculous and facetious. In fact, the retro-era spy games feel promisingly fun to begin with and one wished the film could have carried on with things in a lighthearted manner. The heavy burden of nationalism and the serious incident on which the film is based can’t allow for it. However, the film fails in even maintaining the urgency and tension well. The middle gets flaccid, protracted, and boring as the film moves back and forth in time and gets needlessly peppered with some loud humour about football, stamina and canine procreation and uninspiring song sequences. Even the climax plays out flat, tame and listless what with the mission accomplished thanks to the weather than the bravura of the masterminds.
The film is centred entirely on Kumar much to the detriment of everyone and everything else. Even the prime-movers of the plot—the hijackers and the hostages—don’t get a leg in. The star holds the show together like an automaton, tuned to delivering the patriot act that he has volitionally straitjacketed himself in. Kumar shows a glimpse of the comic in a scene where he talks to his mother about how he buys khus pads of the cooler from Rajouri Garden. Or when he mutters under his breath about how the impoverished Indian James Bonds must pay for the petrol from their own pockets. That’s the Kumar—of a Jolly LLB2 for instance—who needs to be reclaimed and resurrected. But if his righteous nationalistic posturing is taking him places, so be it.
Vani Kapoor, as his wife, and Huma Qureshi, as a points person in Dubai, get their screen time neatly boxed into pre and post interval, feel more like props serving the hero than full blown human presence even though the hero keeps talking of women’s izzat (respect). There is a surprise when it comes to the wife at the far end but more a token gesture or an afterthought. In much the same way Adil Hussain feels just as wasted as the RAW officer who keeps getting trumped by the guy who he has himself inducted into the team. Would he not know about politics of Bangladesh that BellBottom so patronizingly tells him about? How much of suspension of disbelief can the audience indulge in?
Now for the surprise in the film. Well, the portrayal of UAE, for instance. During the talk of Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose that BellBottom has with their defence minister, the film feels like a diplomatic charm offensive launched on the country. Much mutual admiration flows along.
Then there is the presence of former prime minister Indira Gandhi. For a charismatic, energetic woman that she was, Lara Dutta’s Gandhi is dull, stiff and lackluster with a prosthetic nose that is not half as sharp as that of the former PM. Her political acumen is shown lacking sharpness as well, surrounded as she is by utterly incompetent ministers, advisors and officers. She is shown talking admirably of her vision for India for the next 100 years than just the forthcoming elections. But ultimately, has much to thank our hero for, in the diplomatic game with Pakistani President. What would she have done without him! How would she have managed! However, unlike the parody that PM Manmohan Singh had been reduced to by Anupam Kher in The Accidental Prime Minister, Dutta’s portrayal of Mrs G doesn’t demean the office of the prime minister. Small mercy at a time when history is being actively re-written both online and off it.