Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar’s hijacking movie ‘Bell Bottom’ is a significant film for the actor and his entertainment industry. After all, it’s the first star-studded Hindi film to release in the theatres in India since the savage second wave of COVID-19 swept his nation prompting cinema halls to bring down their shutters. And the actor is acutely aware of the onus on him.
“I respect Vashu ji [Producer Vashu Bhagnani] for being the first to take this leap and am humbled to be part of a film which is a step towards my industry’s revival. Above all, I am extremely excited that a film like ‘Bell Bottom’ will give audiences the chance to relive the cinematic experience, which we have missed for the last one and a half years,” said Kumar in an e-mail interview with Gulf News.
Directed by Ranjit Tiwari and produced by Pooja Entertainment, ‘Bell Bottom’ also starring Lara Dutta and Vaani Kapoor, chronicles the real-life hijacking of a plane carrying Indian passengers and how Kumar’s character saves the hapless hostages from extremists.
He compares this creative gamble of releasing ‘Bell Bottom’ in the theatres as hitting a wall where the players may end with a bloody nose. But it’s a risk that he is willing to take. And, the reason?
“Because cinema is beyond a film but such an important and binding asset moment for all of us. It’s part of the fabric of our culture and life. Everyone is excited to return and relive those experiences and build new ones.” said Kumar.
Excerpts from our interview with Kumar about his new thriller, out in the UAE cinemas now, filming during COVID-19, and how Over-The-Top platforms can co-exist with theatrical releases ...
Tell us more about ‘Bell Bottom’ and why we should watch this film?
‘Bell Bottom’ is a well-crafted film that makes for an exhilarating theatrical experience. I am a huge [fan of ] intelligent espionage thrillers, especially those based on real-life contexts and ‘Bell Bottom’ represents just that. It is the story of India’s first covert operation and it it’s an original screenplay set in 1984, an era infamous for several heinous airplane hijackings in India. Our story focuses on one such hijack. It is a story inspired by true events which made it extremely exciting for me. When you get to know that an extraordinary incident like the one in the film actually took place, the intrigue and thrill of it increases tenfold.
What was the best part about playing a fierce character in ‘Bell Bottom’ and can you tell us more about your nickname?
I play the character of a RAW agent whose code name is Bell Bottom. He expertly sees through the plan to revoke a plane hijack and begins India’s first covert operation. ‘Bell Bottom’ will have audiences on the edge of their seats as he strives to outsmart the gang of hijackers. It's a story about how he manages to unravel the hijacking attempt in what would go on to be one of the defining moments in Indian history. I wish I could tell you more, but I would never want to kill the suspense.
‘Bell Bottom’ is inspired by true events, but how familiar were you with that incident which shaped geo politics of that time?
Admittedly, before making this film, I didn’t know of this particular chapter in history. I don’t think many people would know about it as it is based on a RAW agent and such details are usually classified information. However, I was aware of a string of hijacks taking place during that period in India and it was an unnerving time. You would often switch on the news to see the intense reporting, the fear, and uncertainty. And in some cases, the sadness. But the details of the incident and how it went on to become India’s first covert operation, I got to know of it only when I heard the script and I was hooked.
Do you naturally gravitate towards roles that represent the spirit of a brave Indian? You seem to have become the go-to person for patriotic films, your thoughts?
It’s true that I tend to choose films with strong, inspiring Indian stories. There is so much this country has to be proud of and to play those roles is a pleasure. I wouldn’t say that patriotic films are the only ones I take on, but I certainly enjoy them. Be it ‘Gold’, ‘Padman’ or ‘Bell Bottom’, if a film can inspire people, educate and teach them about a particular episode or issue through entertainment, then it’s a win-win. It is the script which gravitates me to a role. If the script is strong, I’m in.
Bell Bottom, like many films in Bollywood, faced an uncertain theatrical release … As an actor and producer, what have you learnt about cinema in the face of COVID-19?
Vashu ji’s [Bell Bottom producer Bhagnani] decision to release in cinemas is a bold and a very important call for the industry. Someone had to step forward first. We have learned that above all else that our love for cinema remains strong and it has been something we have all missed during those lock-down periods. If ever there was any doubt about the future of the cinema industry, we have learned that this is not the case, and while things may take some time to get back to what we recall as being ‘normal’, an important point to remember is – the experience cinema creates, the memories it forges, and the emotions it evokes.
Can OTTs and big screen co exist and do you think the audiences tastes have changed dramatically since they have been acquainted with riveting content from around the globe?
OTT and big screen experiences are different in their own, individual ways. Films are made to be showcased and experienced by the audiences, one way or another. With COCVID-19, circumstances have certainly changed over the past year, meaning OTT streaming was the only viable means of consuming content, whereas cinema theatres are an experience, it is a feeling. Having said that, I believe that cinema theatres and OTT platforms can and will co-exist with great success and harmony. They’re complementary and serve their own unique purpose. A film like ‘Bell Bottom’ is tailored to be showcased to an audience in a theatre where you are able to immerse yourself in the picture, sounds, and overall experience of being in front of the big screen. The entertainment industry is constantly evolving and we are so lucky to be able to view entertainment originating from all over the world.
Are box-office opening numbers relevant in today’s time and age?
With cinema releases, box-office opening numbers remain relevant. For ‘Bell Bottom’, the pressure is that Maharashtra is still closed and around 30 percent of the money comes from Maharashtra. And because only 50 per cent occupancy is allowed, half of the other 70 per cent share is also gone. But I look at the current scenario like a wall and the first person who tries to break the wall will end up with a bloody nose. So it’s a risk, but someone has to take it. I am keeping my fingers crossed but also keeping in mind that this is just the beginning. It’s a bit of renewal for our industry and it may take some time for us to hit the big numbers -- box-office wise. But we are proud to have taken the risk to exhibit our film in cinemas during this time and to do our utmost best to give audiences the opportunity to experience the film.
There’s a large section of Bollywood fans who are still scared of stepping out due to the fear of contracting infections … How would you address their fear?
The sooner we embrace the reality of living with COVID-19 as the new normal, the sooner we can get on with our lives by taking all those necessary safety precautions. The recent India vs England match is a good example, where many people were able to turn up at the stadium and demonstrate how it can be done safely. After all, how long can people stay cooped up at home, not go to work, to the mall, stadiums, theatres, or restaurants? The audience are now hungry to watch a film on the big screen. So, one just has put a mask and move on. But that doesn’t mean we don’t remain vigilant. Even if things have subsided, for it to remain that way we need to adapt and follow the protocols.
Has the landscape of Bollywood films changed since COVID-19 hit?
The circumstances around filming have certainly changed. There were extensive and meticulous safety measures in place to enable a smooth and safe shoot for ‘Bell Bottom’. Besides medical-grade masks and face shields, the production house had also made it mandatory for the cast and crew to wear a wrist watch that would constantly monitor our oxygen levels, body temperature, blood pressure, stress levels and pulse via a centralised dashboard. Along with this, everyone was instructed to live within the premises in bubbles to minimise interaction with the outside world. Chefs were also appointed for the team to avoid the need to order food from restaurants. There was an on-set doctor looking into the vitals of all of the crew members on a daily basis. Every 15 days the entire crew would take a mandatory COVID-19 test. There was also a sanitisation tunnel installed for the crew to use before starting the day’s work and at the end of the day, each day, the set would get disinfected. In terms of the landscape for releases, I hope ‘Bell Bottom’ can be a catalyst for theatrical releases. Someone had to take the first step and I’m proud that we have done so.
You are an outsider who made it big in Bollywood ... What's your advice to other Bollywood hopefuls?
My advice -- beyond putting in every effort to master your trade -- is to be a ‘producers actor’. Entering the industry is a lot easier than staying in it. It is so vital that you buy into the producer’s ethos and their vision. It’s important to come on time, work properly, and finish your films on time. Industry reputation is just as important as on-screen talent when it comes to enjoying a successful career in Bollywood.
Don’t Miss It!
‘Bell Bottom’ is out in the UAE cinemas now