A 1996 graduate of Princeton, he worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021
He’s done it all. Be it playing the action hero, the patriotic man of the hour, the romantic guy-next-door or the comical genius who can make you roll your eyes or laugh out loud with his inane antics. It’s no wonder then that Akshay Kumar is counted as one of Bollywood’s most bankable stars today.
At a time when India's film industry was reeling under the aftermath of the Covid pandemic with theatres shut and filming at a standstill, he, along with production company Pooja Entertainment, took on the onus of travelling to Scotland to complete the schedule of their big budget movie BellBottom.
Directed by Ranjit Tiwari, and starring Akshay along with Adil Hussain, Lara Dutta, Vaani Kapoor and Huma Qureshi, the film is a nail-biting thriller ‘inspired’ by real events but powered by the over-the-top, larger than life heroism the actor is known for embracing.
Based on actual hijackings of Indian planes in the 80s, BellBottom sees Kumar play RAW analyst Anshul Malhotra, who finds himself in the thick of the action when he embarks on a James Bond-esque covert operation to free the hapless hostages from the clutch of villains in this over-dramatised, country-hopping adventure.
BellBottom, produced by Pooja Entertainment, is the first big budget Bollywood film to release internationally in the cinemas, bypassing the OTT route.
Excerpts from an e-mail interview with the star.
Are you hopeful BellBottom could well herald the return of the big-screen entertainment?
BellBottom has been made for the big screen, for audiences to have an entertaining experience. I am absolutely delighted that besides being the first film in the world to be shot and completed amid the pandemic, we are also the first big-budget Bollywood film to release across the world which would help set the ball rolling for other films.
Given the circumstances, everyone is putting effort into making the theatre experience feel normal and safe again, whether that be staff or members of the public. For that to happen, you need more films showing confidence in a theatrical release, because you can’t return to a sense of cinema normality without the films! So we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
During these testing times, what hopes do you have from the movie as far as audience reaction is concerned?
BellBottom is an espionage thriller inspired by true events set in the 80s. I can assure it is a roller-coaster ride from start to finish, and you wouldn’t know what will hit you next! When you get to know an extraordinary incident actually took place, and that it is true, the intrigue and thrill of it increases tenfold.
BellBottom comes with the added X factor of being in 3D. How did that come about?
As a high-octane espionage thriller, it is an eclectic mix of action, suspense and drama, making it a perfect film for a 3D experience. It is also the first big budget Bollywood film to release theatrically after a long gap. What better way to welcome fans back to the cinemas than with an all-out experience in 3D?
You are the archetype of the 360 degree Bollywood hero - one who can fight the villains, romance the prettiest girl in the room, tickle everyone’s funny bones and to top it every movie of yours has a dash of patriotism as well. Is that part of Akshay Kumar’s patented formula for success in an otherwise fickle industry?
Firstly, I’d like to thank you for the generous statement. I have been fortunate to have had a long and interesting journey over the years, entertaining my fans along the way. My fans are the patented formula for the Akshay Kumar success. The villains, the romances, the stunts and the comedy were the paths to reaching the fans.
I also respect the position I have earned, and I aim to use it wisely to highlight untold stories, especially those inspired by real life events such as BellBottom, as they are worthy for the world to know and appreciate.
Your character is code-named BellBottom in the film. Could you tell us the significance of the name?
BellBottom is set in 1984, when India was faced with the challenge of multiple hijacks, and during one more such hijack a RAW agent whose code name is BellBottom sees through the plan and begins India’s first covert operation. Now doesn’t that sound exciting to you?
As for why I have the code-name, actually that’s a good question... everyone has asked me what BellBottom is, not why it is BellBottom. I guess it is maybe because of the swagger I pull off with my actual bell bottoms! I miss the fashion of the 80s — it was so raw and real!
When you have a movie ‘based on real events’ there is an added onus to make it all believable. How hard was that for BellBottom?
BellBottom is a story based on true events and we have bottled the essence and thrill of espionage and curated it into a movie and the plot captures what really unfolded.
A spy would have done his job well only when his story and work is never heard of. BellBottom pieces together fragments of what the world knows with what really happened backstage. Overall, it’s a true story, but some parts have been obviously dramatised to create a more cinematic and entertaining experience. I’d say eighty per cent of it is real, the rest twenty, fiction.
How did you manage to convince Lara Dutta to age so well and play Indira Gandhi?
The only convincing I had to do was to make Lara believe that I was actually calling her to play the role of Indira Gandhi because she kept thinking I was playing a prank on her and pulling her leg in boredom during lockdown. Once I convinced her I was being serious, she immediately agreed!
Lara is a phenomenal professional and a very talented actress. It’s true, her role in BellBottom is very interesting and her transformation is synonymous with her versatility as a performer and great credit must also be given to makeup artist Vikram Gaikwad and his team for making her role appear so authentic. She really brought the character of Indira Gandhi alive.
Vaani and you make a gorgeous pair in Marjaawaan. You have paired with many actresses over the years; what is the spark you look for in someone roped in opposite you in a movie?
Someone who has a good sense of humour and also attentive and committed to their craft does wonders for a working partnership to flourish both as colleagues and friends and for the chemistry between artists to really show on screen. Vaani has all of those qualities and that too in abundance.
What makes Akshay Kumar Bollywood’s most bankable star today? Is it a hit formula you have arrived at, the ability to zero in on the right script, being at the right place at the right time, extreme hard work, hardcore planning, destiny?
It’s a bit of everything you have said but nothing beats pure dedication to your work and some luck. You could put in all the effort but if luck isn’t on your side, none of that would matter.
And I cannot forget the hand my fans play in helping me become who I am today and making my journey even more inspiring. I owe so much to them and am grateful for their love and support over the years.
Olympics gold medal winner Neeraj Chopra had famously said he’d love for you or Randeep Hooda to play him. Does that thought interest you?
I can only act, I’m a reel hero but Neeraj Chopra has been the real hero. What he achieved is no easy feat — it’s years of hard work, grit, determination, sacrifices and hopes culminating into a single moment. I am honoured he feels I can play him, but I think he is a very good-looking guy and if a biopic about me is made some day, he should play me in the film.
BellBottom is currently screening in UAE theatres.
A 1996 graduate of Princeton, he worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2021
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