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Bell Bottom review: Insipid, predictable drama that fails to provide any thrill

Release Date: 19 Aug 2021 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 05min

Read in: Hindi

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

This swagger in retro fashion is strictly for die-hard Akshay Kumar fans only.

Akshay Kumar’s much-awaited film Bell Bottom has finally been released in theatres, making this the first big-ticket release in cinema halls after the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdowns earlier this year. Expectations were riding high before the film's release, but after the release they have been dashed.

Directed by Ranjit M Tewari, Bell Bottom stars Akshay Kumar and Akshay Kumar, along with a seriously underused supporting cast of Adil Hussain, Lara Dutta Bhupathi, Dolly Ahluwalia, Huma Qureshi and Vaani Kapoor. The espionage thriller follows a covert operative (Akshay Kumar) who saves the lives of all passengers on a hijacked Indian aircraft.

Anshul Malhotra (Akshay Kumar) is an overachiever who is a chess champ, speaks multiple languages, is a singer and is desperately trying to clear the civil services exam. Malhotra loves his mother (Dolly Ahluwalia) to bits and wishes to impress her. However, a turn of events leads him to be recruited by RAW, or the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, and he becomes an agent.

With several flashbacks, we are given the context of the plane-hijacking incidents, the criminal intent behind them, and the double game being played by Pakistan in it all. The main event unfolds in 1984, when, in the face of yet another hijacking, Malhotra’s recruiter Santook (Adil Hussain) suggests that Malhotra, codename Bell Bottom, be called in to save the day. There are troubles and twists along the way, but, predictably, good old Khiladi Kumar saves the day, upholding all his patriotic Indian values.

The first half of the film sets the premise for the hijack and the film wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter, with the opening throwing us right into the middle of the scenario of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when hijacking planes was an oft-used tactic by militant groups. However, while getting into the back story of Malhotra and his family, it starts to drag its feet and becomes predictable. The parts about him training offer some useful insights and one wishes the narrative had woven these in to create a compelling drama. Instead, they pave the way for a certain smugness where Malhotra tells his recruiter how things happen in intelligence agencies!

The second half focuses on the unfolding of the hijack drama and one expects it to pick up speed and draw us into a fast-paced thriller (finally!). Instead, we remain largely unconcerned about the poor souls on the plane. The climax tries to drum up the action, but that too seems forced and we are well past the point of caring by then. The only 3D-worthy scene here is the desert storm action sequence which also could have been so much better.

From the get-go, Bell Bottom, like practically every other Akshay Kumar film, is a hero narrative. His entry in the mandatory slow motion is heralded with celebratory music and a swagger in swaying bell bottoms. There is little room for anyone or anything else. Both Vaani Kapoor as Malhotra’s wife and Huma Qureshi, as the Dubai contact, have a nice twist that gives their characters a bit of a bite, but the narrative makes the reveal so insipid that it just passes us by.

Adil Hussain is fabulous as always, managing to draw one’s attention away from Akshay Kumar in every scene that he is in. Lara Dutta as Mrs Gandhi seems stupefied by the prosthetics and delivers a wooden, awkward performance.

There are certain redeeming moments — Vaani Kapoor’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Malhotra’s relationship with Santook, and even the moments of light-hearted fun between the agents. But Akshay Kumar is so intent on his poker-faced Mr Know-It-All stance that it’s all that one takes away from the film.

The production and costume design are inconsistent. On the one hand, we have bell bottoms and a largely retro look for the cast, while Vaani Kapoor seems to belong to the future with her hair and make-up. Similarly, there is much fuss made about the air-conditioner that Malhotra cannot afford for his mother, but the rest of his house is lavish.

There is a lot of material that could have made the film an intriguing, nail-biting thriller, but the opportunity is squandered and what we get instead is a whole lot of gyan from Khiladi Kumar — about patriotism, India’s place in the world, being respectful towards women, etc, the dialogue, “Iss baar, unki haar” sounding suspiciously like an election slogan for 2024.

Although theatres have not yet reopened in Mumbai, the film has been released in other cities where theatres are running at 50% capacity. It remains to be seen if fans will turn up to watch this film because this one is only for the die-hard Akshay Kumar fan.


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