Lara Dutta on playing Indira Gandhi in Bell Bottom: Had to do a fair amount of work to portray someone like her

Lara Dutta also said she no longer cares about playing the lead role in a film: 'Visibility no longer matters to me. Now it’s about stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that surprises me as well as the audience.'

Seema Sinha August 17, 2021 12:43:15 IST
Lara Dutta on playing Indira Gandhi in Bell Bottom: Had to do a fair amount of work to portray someone like her

Instagram @larabhupathi

Lara Dutta has been part of many big budget multi-starrers like No Entry, Partner, Do Knot DisturbBhagam Bhaag, Blue and Housefull among others but she has often felt under-utilised as an actor through a lot of years in her career and one of the primary reasons being people didn’t seem to see beyond her glamour image.

However, today the scenario is different as the actor-producer, who made her debut on a streaming platform last year (Hundred) feels it is an incredible time and that she is getting ample opportunities to showcase her talent. But when she was picked to play former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she was shocked. The offer came from none other than her close friend and co-star from her first film, Andaaz — Akshay Kumar, for Bell Bottom, a spy-thriller co-starring Vaani Kapoor and Huma Qureshi. Directed by Ranjit M Tewari Bell Bottom is gearing up for a theatrical release across the globe on 19 August.

“It was Akshay who called me to offer this part in May last year. He said that they are casting for a film called Bell Bottom and wanted me to play Mrs Indira Gandhi. Initially I thought Akshay was joking. We were in New York right in the middle of the lockdown. Akshay called me saying, ‘I am doing this film called Bell Bottom and there is the role of Indira Gandhi...’ I actually started laughing! I really thought he was pulling my leg," she says.

Lara Dutta on playing Indira Gandhi in Bell Bottom Had to do a fair amount of work to portray someone like her

Lara Dutta in Bell Bottom. YouTube

“Secondly”, Dutta, former Miss Universe, furthers, “I didn’t know what resemblance he saw between me and Mrs Gandhi. I said I would do it, but then there was a responsibility of doing such a part. The film doesn’t really make any kind of political statement, it’s not about Mrs Gandhi, it focuses on events that happened as part of history but still I was wary about playing a political figure of her stature in the right way on screen. But Akshay was clear that the look will be managed and they were on the lookout for an actor who has a body language, dignity and presence to justify the character. Playing an iconic personality like Indira Gandhi was an opportunity of a lifetime. Once I committed to it, there was a huge responsibility to train to look like her on screen."

For Dutta, her character in Bell Bottom is much beyond just the prosthetics as she had to undergo a lot of training to look the part. “The director made me watch a lot of videos of Mrs Gandhi. It gave a good insight into the kind of body language she had. I made a lot of notes about her eye movements, hand movements, the way she spoke and how clear she was in her approach. The story is inspired by a real-life hijacking that took place then, so it’s a rather dramatic event. But Mrs Gandhi was someone who was always in control, whereas, I am quite animated when I am talking. As a person, I am far more dramatic, which is why I had to do a fair amount of work on myself to portray someone like Indira Gandhi on screen. It sure was a challenge," she explains.

Dutta's unrecognisable look from the film with use of prosthetics and make up stole everyone's attention. “I couldn’t recognise myself. Akshay could not stop staring at me. When he saw me for the first time as the character, I remember he sat next to me and kept staring at me. I was like, ‘What is wrong with you? Why are you staring at me?’ He replied, ‘This is so strange. So uncanny. ’ So, such were the reactions on the sets of Bell Bottom. I was excited to see how people would react to it, and I think it’s been pretty remarkable. For me, one of the biggest compliments has come from my dad (Wing Commander LK Dutta). He was Mrs Gandhi’s personal pilot; he had flown her many times and knew her personally. I grew up as a kid hearing stories about her. So, in a way, I felt an indirect personal connection with her. My dad became an integral source of information for me. Through him, I got an insider perspective rather than just what was available to me through the makers and what existed on the internet,” she says.

Lara Dutta on playing Indira Gandhi in Bell Bottom Had to do a fair amount of work to portray someone like her

Lara Dutta in Bell Bottom. YouTube

When asked if it got even more tedious for her since Kumar is known to start his shoots early in the morning and the actress says, “I don’t mind starting work early in the morning and this is my 13th project with Akshay, so I know how it works. He is my absolute favourite co-star, he is like family. He’s extremely disciplined, brings in a lot of positive energy and makes sure that he cares for everyone on set. We have come to a point now that in a scene together, he doesn’t need to convey to me how he wants me to react. I can pick up cues from his performance and vice versa. I am very comfortable working with him."

It is not just that Bell Bottom is slated to be the first big budget film to release in movie theatres after more than a year, it is also the first film in the world to start and finish shooting during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The cast and crew of the film flew off to the UK to shoot in August last and finished it on 30 September.

“In fact, before Akshay showed up I was the first actor to start the shoot. The film went on the floors when nothing, whether in India or even internationally anything was being shot. It was a huge risk and a huge amount of responsibility that was vested on the producers to restart the whole industry. I feel very fortunate to be part of a film that, in a way, has created history by being the first to start filming. We started shooting the film at a time when no one even knew what the way forward would be like with safety protocols. It was a pretty restrictive and challenging environment for shooting. But once we settled in, we felt quite safe. We are in one of the rare professions where you can’t do your job with your mask on. So, this film in a way showed the rest of the industry that shoots can be carried on safely even in the middle of a raging pandemic,” says Dutta.

Dutta had recently said that to break away from getting slotted she did more comic genre films. Today even as she says that she is enjoying this phase of her career, one wonders if she wasn’t looking at playing lead parts, to which Dutta concludes saying, “Today it doesn’t matter to me what the length of the role is. I definitely don’t have to worry how many songs are there because I have left all that far behind. I am at a liberty where today I am not playing to the audience any more. Visibility no longer matters to me. Now it’s about stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that surprises me as well as the audience."

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