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Akshay Kumar: We have to balance digital and theatrical releases- Cinema express

Akshay Kumar: We have to balance digital and theatrical releases 

The actor along with co-star Lara Dutta on the challenges of BellBottom, which opens in cinemas on Aug 19  

Published: 17th August 2021
Akshay Kumar: We have to balance digital and theatrical releases 

Beyond their past 12 collaborations, Akshay Kumar and Lara Dutta are the closest of friends. So when Akshay called her up for BellBottom, asking if she'd like to play Indira Gandhi, Lara thought he was joking. "He is known for his pranks and I thought this was one of those," Lara recalls. Instead, Akshay was dead serious. The makers, he told her, wanted someone with a certain gravitas to portray the role. Lara seemed to fit the bill. "She was convinced in 2.15 minutes," Akshay says matter-of-factly.

Next came the prosthetics. Vikram Gaikwad, a three-time National Award-winning makeup artist, created the pieces in-house, basing them on a mould of Lara's face. It was a lengthy process, but the real surprise came on the day of the look test. "I don't blame people for not recognising me in the trailer because I didn't recognise myself," Lara laughs. "Even her husband (Mahesh Bhupathi) couldn't recognise her," Akshay adds.

The moment was also special in another way. Lara's father, LK Dutta, is a retired Wing Commander who'd flown Indira Gandhi several times. Growing up, she'd hear stories of the former Prime Minister and how she was with her team. "It meant a lot when my dad saw my look and said it was convincing," Lara shares.

Directed by Ranjit M Tiwari, Bellbottom revisits a string of hijackings that took place in the 80s. The event in question seems to be the 1984 Flight 421 hijacking, done by Khalistani separatists against the Indira Gandhi regime. In the film, Akshay's cool-headed RAW agent is called in to tackle the crisis, trotting from Delhi to London to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. "Our film is about how the early RAW agents operated," Akshay elaborates. "It explores how they lived, trained... the kind of operations they did. It's taken from true events we know nothing about."

Akshay, of course, has played a spy before, leading a tactical mission in Neeraj Pandey's Baby (2015). The actor says it's rare to come across a great espionage script. "I think wit is more important than physical action in the spy world. There are spies with paunches since they have to blend in. They can't appear too fit otherwise they'll be caught."

He brushes off comparisons with films like Baby and Airlift—or prior hijack dramas like Ram Madhvani's Neerja. "The stakes are markedly different in BellBottom," Akshay stresses. "It's about the loopholes the agents found. They only had time till sunset to rescue the hostages. There was a lot of diplomatic pressure from the country they were in..."

Bellbottom was the first international production to go on floors last year. The film was shot in Glasgow, London and Delhi. The actors observed mandatory quarantines, and shot within strict restrictions. Many of them, Akshay and Lara included, brought their families along. "I knew my daughter will be safer around me than if I left her back," Lara recalls, praising producer Vashu Bhagnani for the 'huge gamble' he took by restarting production. "It’s inconceivable to make such a large scale film during the pandemic," Akshay says. "Our producers arranged everything from planes, guns, cars and tanks..."

A bigger gamble, however, might be the decision to release the film theatrically, with markets still recovering and several states extending shutdowns. Akshay's last film, the horror-comedy Laxmii, was released digitally on Disney+ Hotstar. Would he consider another online release in the future? "Yes... I mean OTT is here to stay, so are theatres. We just have to balance it."

On that note, any word on Sooryavanshi, the Rohit Shetty behemoth he completed in 2019 but is yet to unleash on fans? "You should ask him," Akshay laughs, pointing to film publicist and Shetty collaborator Parag Desai. "Maybe after Maharashtra opens up," Parag ventures, and is promptly echoed by Akshay. "Maybe after Maharashtra..."

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