Bell Bottom: Akshay Kumar on his love for spy films, shooting amid pandemic, and opting for theatrical release over OTT

'It is very difficult to get a good spy drama. It is not easy to make one. To play a spy one has to balance the wit of the character and the physicality and action,' says Akshay Kumar.

Seema Sinha August 18, 2021 08:03:11 IST
Bell Bottom: Akshay Kumar on his love for spy films, shooting amid pandemic, and opting for theatrical release over OTT

Akshay Kumar in a still from Bell Bottom | YouTube

Last year when Akshay Kumar’s Baby co-star Taapsee Pannu had expressed disappointment that Laxmii would open on OTT and not on the big screen, the actor had insisted that "the show must go on." And Kumar continues to practice what he preaches.

He led a team of more than 200 members to the UK to shoot espionage thriller Bell Bottom last year, and he has also wrapped five other projects. “I have completed five films during the pandemic. This year I will have four releases and now I am shooting the next one Mission Cinderella (remake of the hit Tamil psychological thriller Ratsasandirected by Bell Bottom director Ranjit Tewari). Things haven’t changed much; I’m going about doing my business as usual. But then this has always been the way I’ve worked — doing an average of four films in a year,” says he says.

Kumar, however, isn’t sure about the status of Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshico-starring Ajay Devgn and Katrina Kaif. “Even I'm waiting for it with bated breath like everybody else. Perhaps after theatres in Maharashtra reopen,” he says.

Bell Bottom Akshay Kumar on his love for spy films shooting amid pandemic and opting for theatrical release over OTT

Akshay Kumar in BellBottom. YouTube

Laxmmi opened on streaming giant Disney+ Hotstar, but Kumar is taking Bell Bottom to theatres. Co-starring Vaani Kapoor, Huma Qureshi, Lara Dutta, Denzil Smith, Aniruddh Dave, Adil Hussain, and Thalaivasal Vijay, Bell Bottom is the first major Bollywood film to release in theatres (on 19 August) post the pandemic shut down of theatres. It's a risk, because theatres are not open to their full capacity and when most producers and many makers are opting for a direct-to-digital release.

(Also read on Firstpost —Lara Dutta on playing Indira Gandhi in Bell Bottom: Had to do a fair amount of work to portray someone like her)

“When nobody was going for an OTT release I did that by releasing Laxmii on OTT. But for this film, it is the call of the film’s producer (Vashu Bhagnani). But I am very excited that the film is releasing in theatres. Maharashtra which is one of the biggest territories hasn’t opened up yet. Let’s see what happens,” he says. However, Akshay is not worried about going digital again if the situation demands. “Both the mediums, OTT and theatres are here to stay, they will co-exist. We have to balance it out,” he says.

Spy world has always excited Akshay though he hopes more films in this genre get made. Based on a true story, Bell Bottom is set in the 80’s, specifically 1984. Akshay plays the titular character, an undercover RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent - whose codename is ‘Bell Bottom’ and who heads a covert operation to rescue over 200 hostages by neutralising four hijackers from a hijacked Indian plane. “I enjoy doing spy films; I have done Baby in the past. But it is very difficult to get a good spy drama. It is not easy to make one. To play a spy one has to balance the wit of the character and the physicality and action. But wit is more important when you play a spy, if you are too fit then there are chances of you getting caught. Many times you will find ‘spies’ in films with a paunch because that goes with the character."

He continues, “But I like the fact that Bell Bottom’s story is taken from true incidents and it is something that nobody knows about. Like when I did Airlift (2016), I didn’t know it’s the biggest civilian evacuation in aviation history. Same was the case with my other films like Padman, Gold, Kesari, Mission Mangal, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha etc. I love real life stories and when I hear of an extraordinary incident and get to know something like that has happened in real life, I get all the more fascinated. Bell Bottom is a story based on true events of India’s first covert operation. I also find it exciting because it is about a RAW agent and how they operate. At that time the organisation was very new. It would be interesting to watch about the kind of life they lead, the kind of training that they go through, the film has got everything in it,” he says.

Bell Bottom Akshay Kumar on his love for spy films shooting amid pandemic and opting for theatrical release over OTT

Akshay Kumar and Vaani Kapoor

He furthers, “The events are true but we have taken some creative liberty in characterisation. We have dramatised it, we had to fictionalise it a bit.” There have been a few hijack dramas in the past, and while it may not be easy to show a hijack differently, Akshay says the presentation of the film is where it can hold attention. “Of course, a hijack is a hijack and a hijacker won’t do it differently, it would all look the same. Hijacker will remove his gun and say it is a hijack. But in this film we have shown what loopholes were found, what did the diplomats do, what did the ministry do, how much time did they have, the hijack that we have shown in the film there is time only till sunset, and the pressure from the country where the plane was taken. So presenting the screenplay was a bit challenging," he says.

Bell Bottom is Tewari’s second directorial after Lucknow Central (2017). Earlier, he worked as an assistant on films like Patiala House, D-Day, Hero and Katti Batti among others. Akshay, who has often collaborated with new or first time directors, says he enjoys working with them. “There is greed in them, they are full of new ideas, they are ready to give everything for the film and I like that. Ranjit must be 22nd new director I am working with," he says.

Comedy is yet another genre that the actor is known for and he owes much of his success to his comedy films. Do we see him in a comedy soon? Is there any talks on the fifth instalment of Housefull? He says, “There is still a lot of time for Housefull 5 but I am currently doing Bachchan Pandey with the director of Housefull 4. It is a comedy action and thriller.”

Bell Bottom is probably one of the first Indian films that was shot entirely during the thick of the pandemic, filming in London, Scotland and Glasgow, in 2020. If you ask me what were the challenges for me, there was none. Challenges were for the producers. I don’t want to take any credit. It is a big budget film and shooting with about 300 people, then there are guns, cars, tanks…and all this during the pandemic, there was a lot of arrangement to make,” he says.

After his congratulatory message to Neeraj Chopra, the first track and field athlete to win a gold medal for India at the Olympics, there were several memes indicating Akshay will do his biopic. “My wife sent some of those memes to me and I had a hearty laugh, especially the one which was a still from my film Saugandh with a stick. It was so funny. But I think Neeraj can play me if a biopic on me is made. He is a good looking guy and also very fit,” he laughs, adding, “We have gone through tough times but in this grim period we have made some major achievements in the sports field.”

Returning to the topic of theatrical release, Akshay feels there needs to be more films showing confidence, ”It is a gamble and someone had to take this gamble. We have taken this leap and I'm confident that this is going to work,” he concludes. And if one had to believe in latest reports pouring in saying, ‘Bell Bottom has packed a solid advance booking at the Box office’, it looks like Akshay’s gamble has paid off.

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