Bell Bottom movie review: Akshay Kumar's 'subversive' film is no improvement on his harebrained patriotic fare

Bell Bottom is a continuation of Akshay Kumar’s slew of ‘nationalistic’ movies, hiding in the facade of a 'fast-paced spy thriller.'

Tatsam Mukherjee August 19, 2021 09:25:26 IST

1/5

If a Hindi film telling us about ‘new India’ were a drinking game, we would end up like characters in a Hangover film. It has happened so often in the last seven years that someone might even be deranged enough to recognise a pattern in it. In Ranjit M Tewari’s Bell Bottom, the first big-ticket Hindi film to release since the devastating second-wave of COVID-19, we hear just another not-nearly-as-subtle-as-the-makers-think version of ‘new India.'

The titular spy (played by who else but Akshay Kumar) ends his briefing to his agents with “Ab Hindustan nahi jhukega. Iss baar, unki haar.” This happens after an opening monologue tells us about how the Indo-Pak relations in the early '80s were the best they had ever been, even though there was a sudden emergence of many ‘anti-national’ organisations within India, secretly funded by Pakistan’s ISI.

That’s what sets it apart from something like Abhishek Dudhaiya’s Bhuj: The Pride of India that released only a few days ago. While the Ajay Devgn-starrer might beat its chest about what it thinks the audience wants to hear, it is sneaky how the Akshay Kumar-starrer merely suggests it. The Pakistan phobia is not exhibited on a Prabhas-like chest of the “hero”, it is hinted at how a Pakistani president (Kavi Raz) downs his scotch after having 'lost.' The scene will ensure many patriots in the audience have a gotcha smile on their face. It is at a time like this that one really has to determine which one is the 'worse' film — the one that wears its bigotry on its sleeve, or the one that hides it behind the veil of 'entertainment?' 

Bell Bottom is a continuation of Akshay Kumar’s slew of ‘nationalistic’ movies, hiding in the facade of a "fast-paced spy thriller." It is more of the same, and without any improvements. 

During the first 10 minutes, Bell Bottom chastises its audience with scenes of a government led by Indira Gandhi (played by Lara Dutta trying to keep a straight face through an alarmingly false nose), entwined in its own bureaucracy, while failing to prevent plane hijackings. “Enough of our old ways, we need new blood” - the scenes seem to be screaming. Almost on cue, the RAW chief (Adil Hussain) introduces our ‘hero’ in a money-shot where he is riding a motorbike against the backdrop of the Red Fort. Where else would a patriot be? 

So perfunctory is the screenplay that Hussain’s character mentions to the prime minister that the hero has a ‘personal stake’ in hijack missions. The Pinocchio-nosed Dutta asks, “Personal stake?” And the film cuts to an elderly woman (Dolly Ahluwalia) in a flashback, whose first dialogue comprises telling her friends how she is going to London in a day or two. The lady is our hero’s mother. Excellent foreshadowing, guys. Excellent. The flashback also takes the liberty to introduce our hero’s wife (Vaani Kapoor, sporting a hip 2021 look in the early '80s for some reason), so they can get the first Tanishk Bagchi ballad out of the way.

Predictably, Ahluwalia’s character is found to have died in a hijacking. The kicker? She died of natural causes, given her severe problem of asthma. One would imagine this is the punchline of this embarrassing bit of segue, but we are not done yet. The film cuts to the present situation for a bit, where Gandhi becomes intrigued by how our protagonist debunks everything her cabinet ministers say with “With all due respect, half of what you’re saying is correct. But the other half isn’t.” She looks at his file, and simply poses the question, “Who recruited him?” The film once again goes back into flashback, where Hussain’s character is seen abducting him, and sharing incendiary details of his mother’s death, where the hijacker did not help her with an asthma pump, instead ordered her to go to sleep by (believe it or not) throwing blankets in her face. It is the kind of blatant manipulation that seems to ‘convert’ Kumar’s character from a common man into a 'patriot.' Kumar bawls for a few seconds, and pledges himself to his nation. Simple. 

Everyone in Bell Bottom seems amateur, even if they constantly keep spouting jargon. Kumar speaking in French or German, seems about as comfortable as Shah Rukh Khan trying to lip-sync to a song by Rabbi Shergill. It seems thoroughly unconvincing, even though they do go through with it. The audience members are repeatedly assaulted that ALL ‘age-old wisdom’ needs to be replaced with new India’s reckless ways. Even if it means putting 210 passengers’ lives at stake. No wonder, even the operation is called 'Mirage.'

Bell Bottom movie review Akshay Kumars subversive film is no improvement on his harebrained patriotic fare

Akshay Kumar and Vaani Kapoor in Bell Bottom

Tewari’s film is the kind of a lazy 'commercial film,' where the titular spy literally bumps into a suspected militant at a Gurudwara in London after his sister-in-law comically trips over him, while walking backwards. It is the kind of film where we are simply listed a few bullet points worthy of characteristics (like National-level chess champion, speaks four languages) as to why he is our best bet. Like most lazy filmmaking, the answer to all our questions is "cos he’s the hero." Plain and simple.

In a particularly “subversive” scene, a minister asks our hero why he did not end his briefing with a 'war cry.' Perhaps, “How’s the josh?” or “Bharat mata ki jai”? Kumar doesn’t say anything, and instead Hussain makes a tasteless joke, which inspired high-pitched laughter from presumably Kumar’s target audience at my screening. It is the kind of scene where the makers seem to be intent on showcasing — “See, how we’re not one of those patriotic films?” One can almost sense a smug gotcha! smile on their face too. 

Then there are obviously the second-rate citizens in any Akshay Kumar film: the women. While the mother is understandably the equivalent of the motherland, there is the character of Huma Qureshi — a fellow spy working at the Dubai airport, and Vaani Kapoor comfortably following in the footsteps of a Shraddha Kapoor and Kiara Advani, by starring in a completely dispensable and unnecessary part. One is the 'inspiration,' one is an 'ally,' and the last one is a 'support system.'

Bell Bottom might try to fool you with its sleekness, but it is equally as harebrained as any of Kumar’s films in the past five years. And it is apparent in the smugness of the ‘twist’ in the last scene of the film. Another one of those gotcha! moments, where Vaani Kapoor’s limited presence is "justified." Another ‘mirage’ of a masterstroke, while the truth is they are simply clueless about how to make use of her acting chops outside of the two music videos they get her to star in.

Bell Bottom is now available in cinemas.

Rating: *

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