Bollywood’s obsession with history rests comfortably with chronicles of Indo-Pak hostility. After recent films based on real-life heroes – Shershaah and Bhuj: The Pride of India – comes yet another movie with a topliner actor.

Ranjit M Tewari’s BellBottom is based on airplane hijackings in the 1970s and 1980s during Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership. This time too, the “enemy” to be decimated or outmanoeuvred is the intelligence agency from across the border.

Akshay Kumar plays Research and Analysis Wing agent Anshul Malhotra. Anshul embarks on a covert mission to free 210 hostages held by hijackers. The 125-minute thriller, written by Aseem Arrora and Parveez Sheikh, is meant to be a roller coaster spyride. What with the action zigzagging back and forth too often, it leaves viewers rather puzzled in trying to piece together the several narrative knots.

An Air India flight that takes off from Delhi is hijacked and diverted to Lahore. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Lara Dutta), along with her trusted aide RN Kao (Denzil Smith), is worried sick. After all, this is the fifth hijacking in the past seven years.

Things turn in Gandhi’s favour when Anshul, who is better known by his code name BellBottom, steps in to salvage the situation. BellBottom firmly believes that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is behind the hijack.

BellBottom (2021).

Gandhi takes a liking to Anshul and allows him to execute his plan. But her refusal to compromise with Pakistan’s President Zia-ul- Haq prompts Pakistan to alter its approach and instead depute Daljeet Singh (Zain Khan Durrani). Daljeet’s inclusion in the Pakistani team makes Anshul all the more determined, since Anshul seems to have an axe to grind with Daljeet. What sets off as a national mission becomes personal.

One-up in encounters and chases and generally getting the better of the hijackers, the Indian agents appear to be far superior to their rivals. The Prime Minister too begins to follow her agent’s instructions.

It becomes more than necessary for Akshay Kumar to showcase what he is capable of as the lead character. He gets away with hogging the screen. His co-stars Vaani Kapoor and Huma Qureshi struggle to steal a few scenes from him here and there.

Lara Dutta, with the aid of prosthetic make-up, is unrecognisable as Indira Gandhi. Dutta doesn’t get to do much, but she does effectively capture the dignified personality of one of the world’s most charismatic women leaders.

Given the current polarising debate on nationalism, the movie’s producers must be congratulating themselves for thinking that they have a winner on their hands. They would have had one, if there had been some substance to the plot and a more streamlined narrative.

Tum Aaogey, BellBottom (2021).