Akshay Kumar in 'BellBottom' (screen grab).
Over the last couple of weeks, audiences have been subjected to chest-thumping, fist-raising and super-patriotic sloganeering. So watching this tale of an action hero (no, not a policeman!) who outwits bad guys was a welcome relief.
Akshay Kumar plays Anshul Malhotra, an ordinary man who’s trying his best to clear the civil services exam so he can give his overdramatic mother (played by Dolly Ahluwalia) a comfortable life. Anshul's wife (Vaani Kapoor) works for a telephone company.
When Anshul gets recruited to RAW as an analyst, he is relegated to the hijack desk. (The film is set in the 1980s when airplane hijacking was more common.) Anshul is put through ‘training’ at RAW - remember how Jaideep Ahlawat put Alia Bhatt through the paces in Raazi? This device helps the audience to participate in the making of a hero.
Plus, it helps that for someone who’s in his 50s, Akshay Kumar is in great shape.
The inimitable Adil Hussain plays the role of a mentor and RAW boss Santook, who knows that he’s trained the best team - they have code names like Saand, Puchchi, and of course BellBottom.
Also read: Will Akshay Kumar’s 'BellBottom' set the cash registers ringing like before?
The plot thickens
When an airplane is hijacked, two governments come together to save the passengers - the government of the country where the flight originated, and the other where the hijackers landed. The hijackers turn out to be of Pakistani origin.
The hijackers demand cash and the release of extremists from jail. Will the Indian government give in to the demands? Obviously not.
Lara Dutta transforms rather well into Mrs Indira Gandhi, who decides to trust the analyst instead of her ministers who are eager to negotiate. But she sends them with the RAW team as back up. As they say, ‘Game on!’
The hijackers are clever, and I’m so grateful to the writer Aseem Arrora for not using the hackneyed term ‘Aakaa’ for the masterminds. And yes, he doesn’t use the word ‘masterminds’ either.
The narrative is fast-paced and falters only during the ministerial meetings - people gherao the ministers when hijackings happen.
The mother-son ‘noak-jhonk’ is odd - he’s not ten for god's sake! But in Hindi movies, it’s that ‘grown man who loves his mother’ trope. A tad nauseating, but for the Bollywood audience, it’s that ‘action hai, emotion bhi hai’ (has action, has emotion also!).
In some moments, the hijackers seem pretty predictable. Yet the action picks up wonderfully. From the team figuring out how the bad guys operate to figuring out who, and how the hijackers know what super team of RAW agents are planning next - it's nicely done.
Zain Khan Durrani is a very creepy bad guy Doddy. Huma Qureshi and Denzil Smith fit in well in their roles too. It is fun to hear heavily Arabic accented Hindi, but it feels alright. The only dialogue that will make you choke on your popcorn is the rejoinder our hero gives when the foreign defence minister says, ‘You come from the country of Gandhi!’
The final action scene in the film is very Mission Impossible. I never thought I’d be grinning to see how they get the hijackers. And that’s what movies are supposed to make you feel, right? The twist in the end is cool.
The film releases all across India (and worldwide) except where COVID-19 restrictions are in place and theatres are still closed. But there’s that OTT partner with Amazon slide that will give hope to those who cannot watch the film right away. I'm not a big fan of 3D, but since it's a big release after a while on the big screen, it makes sense to give the audience something more.
Unsung heroes make for great cinema. And apparently this is the story of not one but two RAW agents - in real life - conjoined to give us this wonderful action film. Vashu Bhagnani and Akshay Kumar make a good team.Full disclosure: The filmmakers flew reviewers to Surat for a pre-release screening at INOX.