Akshay Kumar bullies me, says Lara Dutta
Actress' transformation as Mrs Gandhi in spy thriller BellBottom has amazed many
How do you convince a former beauty queen turned actress, albeit one who’s choosy about the Bollywood projects she takes on, to play a much older character on screen? When the role is that of an iconic figure like former Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi and the man who’s asked you to play her happens to be Akshay Kumar, it is easy!
“Akshay doesn’t convince me, he bullies me!” said Lara Dutta over a recent Zoom conversation on her eye-catching appearance in spy thriller BellBottom, one of the first big budget Bollywood movies to open up during the pandemic.
Stressing that such opportunities come very few and far between in one’s career, Lara adds; “Any female actor, regardless of how old she is, given the opportunity to play an iconic personality like Mrs. Gandhi on screen would grab it with both hands.”
She added that while there was a tremendous amount of excitement to be offered to play Mrs. Gandhi, there was also an equal amount of nervousness for portraying somebody whose life has been documented so incredibly well. “To play her accurately on screen was a huge responsibility.”
Judging by the response to the trailer and the movie that’s one headache less for Lara. Like she tells us even she could hardly recognize herself once the prosthetics were on.
“All of us were really blown away because I looked at myself in the mirror and I couldn’t see Lara anywhere so I’m not surprised nobody recognised me in the trailer cause you can’t see me there!” Initially when she was offered the role she even thought Akshay was pulling her leg, because “I don’t look anything like Mrs. Gandhi in real life…”
Award winning makeup artist and the head of the prosthetics department, Vikram Gaekward is the one who worked on Lara to bring her “to as close a resemblance to Mrs. Gandhi as possible.”
She adds that her transformation was not just about the prosthetics or the mould - “It was also aging the skin, the wrinkles, the pigmentation, working the jaw line...”
The actress who debuted with Akshay Kumar and Priyanka Chopra in Andaaz in 2003, credits the Bollywood superstar for her success. “Akshay is my biggest supporter and the person who has encouraged me the most.
"He offered me Blue (2009) knowing very well that in the first film we did together, Andaaz, he was the one pulling me out of the water, because I had severe hydrophobia and almost drowned. He offered me Blue saying I can’t see anybody else being able to do it and swim with sharks and I know you can do it. The kind of faith he has in me really makes me feel that whenever he offers me something, I can’t let him down.”
She recollects how even in Singh is Bliing the actor called on her to step into a character that was absolutely insane and mad, and despite her reservations convinced her to do it.
“It was the same with Mrs. Gandhi. He said we need someone who has a certain kind of body language, a certain kind of poise and a gravitas that she can bring to the role. And it was my responsibility; it was a challenge, but a responsibility not to let Akshay down.”
Another person who was “extremely tickled that I was asked to play her, and equally curious as I was to see how the transformation would happen and how it would translate to screen,” was her dad retired Wing Commander L.K. Dutta.
Lara recollects she was very small when her dad was flying Mrs. Gandhi in the Air Force.
“I still vaguely remember stories that he would tell us when he’d come home after flying her during the election rallies. So I always grew up with stories of Mrs. Gandhi around the house, never really imagined that I would have an opportunity like this to play her on screen.
"So obviously dad became a very good source of information for me on what she was like, really to have a more personal insight than what you can glean by watching her videos.”
She says her biggest accomplishment was having her dad acknowledge her art after watching the trailer. “It was probably one of the biggest compliments for me over and above everybody else’s that was coming… For someone who knew her to feel that I was convincing, for me that was huge.”
In the end Lara also says going on the floors with BellBottom when the whole industry was at a standstill was a huge leap of faith.
“I give Vashuji and Pooja Films a lot of credit because, for them to take the bull by the horns, of course, with a lot of support from a big star like Akshay, to take an entire unit, to create a bio bubble, to ensure everybody’s safety and kind of lead the way and tell the industry that look, it’s difficult, it is challenging but it can be done and the show must go on...
"The film industry can’t just close down, because there were livelihoods at stake - not just actors and producers but our wage earners as well. This is such a big industry in this country that the losses are massive, all across the board.”
“When Bellbottom finally started filming and people saw it was possible to function then other films went on the floors. So it’s only apt that Bellbottom was the first film to come to theatres and also revive the cinema industry. Especially since we are a culture where cinema is a religion."
BellBottom is currently screening in UAE theatres