Bell Bottom trailer: The Akshay Kumar film is loosely based on the hijacking of Indian Airlines jetliner in August 1984

The image of the date [24 August, 1984], destination of the flight in the film’s trailer is same as that of the then hijacked Indian Airlines jetliner.

By Mayur Lookhar

Long disclaimers are a common feature in a Hindi film that is based on true incidents. However, they usually appear before the film’s screening – be it in theatres and now on OTT networks in a pandemic world. But to see a movie trailer open with a disclaimer is an unusual sight.

Director Ranjit M Tewari’s Bell Bottom [2021], starring super star Akshay Kumar, is all set to be released on 19 August in theatres.  As speculated earlier, it is not the remake of the successful 2019 Kannada film of the same title.  

The trailer of Bollywood’s Bell Bottom [2021], that went online today, begins with the below disclaimer –

Although the film is inspired by a true event, it is not the replication of actual happenings. The story, screenplay, events, characters, locations, etc are fictional and no similarity with actual happenings should be interpreted. We do not intend to defame, show in poor light or hurt the sentiments of any community, religion, or institutions(s) /organisation(s).  The film is meant for entertainment and it does not claim the authenticity of its contents.

There are two notable things in the disclaimer – true event, and the mention of the word actual happenings twice. First it points out how the film is no replication of the actual happenings, while the second sentence makes it clear that this is a work of fiction bearing no similarity with actual happenings. Well, inspired by a true event yet not bearing similarity to actual happenings. Quite a paradox.

The 80s was period where India battled against the Sikh secessionist movement.  This period saw rioting and quite a few hijackings by Sikh separatists.  In 1984, Indian Airlines witnessed not one but two hijackings in less than two months. First Indian Airlines flight IC-405 was hijacked on 6 July and taken to Lahore, Pakistan.  The 22-hour ordeal ended on a bizarre note with the hijackers freeing the passengers on humanitarian grounds.

A month and half later, an Indian Airlines Boeing 736 flying from Delhi to Srinagar was hijacked in Chandigarh, where it had made a scheduled pit stop. The six hijackers demanded the release of their separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and other separatist members languishing in Indian jails.  They then took the aircraft to Lahore, Pakistan where they demanded the release of the five Sikh separatists who were jailed in Pakistan for the hijacking of IC-405, a month earlier. They then flew to Karachi before landing in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  This hijacking happened on 24 August, 1984.

Screenshot of a file note from the trailer of Bell Bottom [2021]

A screenshot of a file note from the Bell Bottom [2021] trailer shows the hijacking date to be 24 August, 1984, flight number IC 691 and flight destination – New Delhi to Srinagar.  

As often seen with hijackings of Indian aircrafts, the government of the day has largely withheld information pertaining to the actual behind-the-scene parleys.  The long-held popular belief has been that it was the then United Arab Emirates Defence Minister Rashid Al-Maktoum who played a key role in the successful negotiations that eventually saw the hijackers releasing the remaining 79 passengers and six crew members. Earlier, five passengers were released in Lahore, while two were released in Karachi. Interestingly, crew member D.K. Mehta had been aboard two aircraft hijacked previously. As often with these hijackings, India always suspected rival neighbouring state Pakistan to be backing these actions of the Sikh separatists. The trailer, too, subtly refers to Pakistan as the mastermind of the hijacking.

Often classified information helps filmmakers to take creative liberties and create a fictionalised account of the true episode. Ranjit Tewari appears to have turned this hijacking into a covert rescue op.   His hero [played by Akshay Kumar] is given the code name Bell Bottom – named after the popular trousers with a marked flare below the knee that were in vogue in the 70s, 80s.

No, Bell Bottom isn’t your Martini loving, philandering James Bond, but our desi hero is shown to be a family man, a national level chess player, music teacher, a polyglot proficient in Hindi, English, French and German.  Akshay Kumar muttering few words in French and German, wow that would be some sight.

Whilst the plot appears to centre around the 24 August hijacking, but the stabbing of a crew member and Bell Bottom [Akshay Kumar] calling to rescue all 200 passengers suggests that director Tewari and his writers Aseem Arora, Parvez Shaikh have incorporated elements from the preceding hijacking [IC 405], into the one that took place later in August that year.

Telling fictionalised tales from true episodes, especially wars, or hijackings is a common phenomenon.  Hollywood has often milked World Wars, Nazi brutality, nuclear attacks to tell engaging stories, especially in the super hero genre.  In India, such films tend to cop criticism if filmmakers distort facts.

Akshay Kumar’s Baby [2015] and Nikkhil Advani’s D-Day [2013] weren’t based on any true episode yet copped some criticism for exaggerating certain manhunt operations, when in truth those terrorists still roam freely in Pakistan.

With many stake holders associated with the two unfortunate hijackings, you’d hope that Tewari and his creative team haven’t resorted to any fantasy rescue op in Bell Bottom [2021].  The Sikh separatist movement was extreme then but we expect the film to be sensitive towards the Sikh community at large. And hope the community, too, accepts this film if told in an objective manner.

The trailer stands out for its theme music, Akshay Kumar’s swag, one-liners especially the ‘no doubles in chess’ line, and the gripping action plot. Lara Dutta is unrecognisable as the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.  Kudos to the make-up, prosthetic artist. Adil Hussain has the pivotal role of a top Indian intelligence official and Bell Bottom’s boss.  Vaani Kapoor has a fleeting presence in the trailer, and we presume there won’t be much difference in the film too.   Huma Qureshi’s burkha-clad Emirati character appears to be offering the vital support to the Indian covert operation.

Whilst the film is slated to release in theatres worldwide, Indian fans across the country will hope that the pandemic doesn’t spoil the fun.  The film’s content is ideal for the masses and classes alike. It releases four days after India’s 75 Independence Day.  The Independence Day week will see two war film releases – Dharma Productions’ Shershaah [2012] and Ajay Devgn’s Bhuj: The Pride of India [2021].  Bellbottom producers Emmay Entertainment and Pooja Entertainment will hope that patriotic fervour will reach a fever pitch once Bell Bottom hits the screens. It promises to be an ideal entertainer for the audience and hopefully it will resuscitate Indian theatrical business.

Watch the Bell Bottom [2021] trailer below.

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