Readers Write In #397: Bell Bottom is one heck of a ride

Posted on August 22, 2021

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(by An Jo)

‘BELL BOTTOM’, the first Hindi film to be released in theaters since the lock-down, is quite an interesting film; which also includes the part the Akshay Kumar is the first actor to take the bullet for the suffering industry by releasing it in theaters knowing fully well that it could end up a very, very risky decision, and of course, I think it has ended up like that going by the BO results. However, I am glad that someone took the risk, and hopefully, it paves the path for further risky adventures. 

Having said that, ‘BELL BOTTOM’, the movie is one heck of a ride through the fag end of 1970s to mid ‘80s. An entire political rainbow spanning 7 years is shone onto the audience in 2 hours 5 minutes by Ranjit Tiwari, the director: A time when, supposedly, India and Pakistan were surprisingly friendly but yet, had around 7 hijackings to boot, and each time, it was the Pakistani government that negotiated with the terrorists and freed the hostages. Yes, the hostages were freed, but it came at a cost – that of release the scum of this earth, the terrorists, be they the Khalistanis or the Pakistanis. You see, the anger had metastasized for the Pakistanis apropos the slashing of East Pakistan by the Indians. So then, arose the theory of bleeding India by a ‘thousand’ cuts, and rightly so, the operation initiated with the title, ‘Operation Topaz.’ That’s the blade that lures in the women: Apparently, it does many other things as well, like influencing terrorists to use codenames. As part of this operation, the ISI, sitting right across the great Zia-Ul-Haq, keeps repeating this charade of fooling the Indians that they did a ‘humanitarian’ job by returning the hostages safe to India. Of course, what is in thrown into the footnote is the ‘transactional’ nature of these operation; either terrorists are released, or money is provided in return. As predicted, Mr. Akshay Kumar’s Anshul Malhotra is the only one who is able read between the lines of these negotiations and establish a pattern that the country of Pakistan is screwing India in the garb of negotiating in their geography and proclaiming to the world and India in specific, that NO hostages were killed. Naturally, all the Delhi ministries in Delhi are quite happy with the ‘friendly’ relations with Pakistan, plus, they have elections round the corner. And this hijacking takes place in August of 1984. And Indira Gandhi was shot dead in October 1984: Get the drift? To summarize, the movie is about how a ‘desk-analyst’ Anshul Malhotra is elevated to handling a covert operation in Dubai where the ‘killing’ of any animal or human beings, in that order, is to be allowed: Tranquilization is fine, but no drop of blood is to be shed; sharply utilized in the film – and then not only brings the hostages of AI IC-619 safely to India, but also captures the terrorists and gives them a beautiful, rent-free living in Tihar Jail.

Coming to the film, it is one hell of a thriller. But let me make it clear, if you are expecting a thriller like Neeraj Pandey’s ‘BABY’, then you will be disappointed. This can hardly be put in that basket, although it does a decent job on its own. Noticeable are the research-works done with regard to covert operations conducted by the Israelis, the success percentage, till then, of course. Remember, we are dealing with an ambience and technology of the ‘70s and ‘80s, when people used to crap on commodes with a flat-faced Phillip Panasonic tape-recorder and not a Bose blue-tooth device listening to Hindi movie songs as today; the phone is somewhere else, and you are crapping somewhere else. And if, by chance, you are expecting the movie to be somewhat on the lines of the master’s ‘Munich’ then you better watch Ravi Teja’s ‘Krack’ to come back to normalcy. 

It is truly commendable that in these pandemic and restricted times, the unit has so well captured the details of the ‘70s and the ‘80s’; by they in London, Dubai, or Delhi. It is not just the bell-bottomed pants – which, as per Amitabh, had a disadvantage that rats could crawl up into during premier shows in Bombay – but the subtleties that have been captured quite well: The taxis in London, the name of perfumes/lipsticks/chewing-gums, etc., etc., [Vaseline, we needed to get Vaseline from England??] So the India-West Indies final on 25th June 1983 is finely used for a covert operation, a map of India with its East, West, North, and South being cut as a revenge to India cutting of East Pakistan from the hot-bet of terrorism West Pakistan, is finely drowned not with water, but with a Coke! 

The action scenes are superbly shot. The one that impressed the most was the one in London where Anshul and the 4 agents in a terrifically authoritative manner just enter the apartment block and capture the 4 terrorists. It is so sharply shot, and edited, with terrific background score, it increases your pulse rate when you are watching it. A flat-out 5-minute shot but shot fantastically with Akshay in all his glory wearing a corduroy jacket and pants. And then he just stares out the window, helplessly, when he realizes one of the terrorists has hood-winked him, and keeps staring at him, but doesn’t jump out the window to show some heroism. A great, great masala scene. The desert-storm actions scenes look contrived, but still look convincing when considered within the scope of the movie. [Don’t compare it with this.] So, there are action-scenes which are very well shot but with a clear purpose that they need to show Anshul as the hero; what with him standing on the guard. However, it doesn’t seem cheesy. Throughout the movie, it is established that he is the one willing to take the risks, and the one who is willing to take the punishment as well if he fails. In that scenario, it makes sense. 

Apart from that, there are fantastic minutiae captured in terms of Margaret Thatcher, Morajri Desai, and the great – bow to him – RAW creator R.N. Kao

One of the scenes I loved was when a Sardar, a part of the team, merely with the shake of his turbaned-head, asks a novice Anshul to ride double-seat on a Bajaj scooter. They are, my friends, riding into the BSF campus, right opposite Pragati Maidan.

In terms of jingoism, the favorite pet-peeve of the liberals that pass-on as intellectuals, there is not much fodder. However, there is something that they can pick on – In one scene, Anshul mentions, responding to the terrorist Dobey [ a fine performance by the way by this gentleman] – ‘Abki bar, Unki Haar.’ Sounds familiar right? Akshay needs to have some brains to be politically correct and not to fall into this trap; or just take them head-on. If the writer wishes to cash-in on his closeness with BJP, he better be ready for the jibes and barbs: ‘Canadian’, ‘reviving Manoj Kumar’, and, the most important thing … knowing how Modi prefers to savor his mangoes …

In regard to foot-falls in theaters, this was clearly a wrong move. It should have been films from the shitty Shetty like SOORYAVANSH to be released in theaters. THAT would have been the lure for theater loving audiences. BELL BOTTOM is not a movie that is going to being folks back to theater. It is a mixture of niche and masala. For me at least, I decide by the grandeur of the cinema; Ratnam with his cinematography, and Bhansali with his attention to detail to ‘Bhansalipur’ is what drives me to the theaters. Sadly, BELL BOTTOM is neither of these, albeit a better film.