Bell Bottom – A Tale Without a Bottom

A Boeing 737-200 aircraft, the same type that was hijacked to Dubai.

You may have read my review ‘Bhuj – The Pride of India is But a Ride of Hysteria.’ I wrote that as a former fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force.

And now I write this as a current commercial pilot in an airline, flying the Boeing 737NG, the latest version of the hijacked airplane shown in this movie.

I wrote the Bhuj review in righteous indignation and write this with mild irritation.

If you think ‘Bell Bottom’ is about haute couture or about the sartorial adventures of a talented tailor, you’re as wrong as the filmmakers who claim this to be based on true events.

AK’s ‘Toilet: A Love Story’ had far too direct a title, leaving nothing to imagination, except some crude curiosity about how one could fall in love within the confines of a cramped toilet. But this title is too subtle, leaving you dumbstruck at the likely connection between bell bottom pants and a commercial airliner in the background as seen in the promos.

Turns out, ‘Bell Bottom’ is the codename given to our hero.

In the film’s titles, the filmmakers, in their infinite wisdom, have written its name in Hindi as बैल बॉटम!

Just when I realised that ‘Bail’ means a bull in Hindi, came another agent codenamed Saand – सांड, which means a virile bull. Thankfully the third agent was codenamed Dollar, not Bhainsa – भैंसा, a male buffalo!

Visualise yourself spending two hours, watching the bottom of a bull. That would certainly be unappealing and even distressing!

So, without revealing the plot, here’s the story.

Terrorists hijack an Indian Airlines plane in 1984 and force it to fly to Dubai via Amritsar and Lahore.

When all the bigwigs, including the Indian Prime Minister, are completely clueless, a minor official announces that there indeed is an even more minor desk agent who – and only who – can find the answer.

To the tune of a cacophony pretending to be like the James Bond theme, enters agent Bell Bottom, wearing bell bottoms. Thank God his codename was not Bikini!

Our hero, a RAW Agent, is given 7 hours – including the flight time from Delhi to Dubai, which is at least 3 hours – to resolve the crisis. Imagine coordinating with the bureaucrats of a different country following their own laws and red taped procedures, and yet achieving your complex objectives in just 4 hours!

He tries repeatedly, but every attempt fails, and even the Indian Prime Minister gives up; when the hero, in the last few minutes, like the last over of a T20 cricket match, turns the story upside down and… you can guess the rest!

The hero returns, and everyone gets sentimental to the tune of our national anthem, even as two Customs officers excitedly pick up the Captain of the hijacked plane on their shoulders. Why would they do that, unless they suspect him of smuggling gold from Dubai and want to check his weight? Or possibly, for once, they seemed to have got an opportunity to express their joy, which they otherwise never get, given the nature of their jobs. I have never ever seen a Customs officer smiling. Have you?

Akshay Kumar has maintained himself well, although he sings in a nasal voice that doesn’t at all sound like him. But not even his ardent fans would believe he looks young enough to be within the age limit for an IAS aspirant.

Lara Dutta does look a bit like Indira Gandhi, but the amount of make-up used could have made even JP Dutta look like that.

Vaani Kapoor is refreshing and Dolly Ahluwalia shines in a small role. She has a complicated relationship with her son and rather relaxed relations with her daughter-in-law, who physically tickles her at the Airline’s check-in counter.

There are some interesting twists and turns in the story, but they don’t quite compensate for the lack of authenticity.

Some dialogues in the movie are delightful, especially the Punjabi banter between mother and son; while some are downright silly.

“What do you think the ISI will do next?”
“I don’t know sir, they’re not my uncles.”
Would you say that to your boss?

One dialogue about a puppy and its mother is in poor taste.

The quotes that contain technical terms are simply hilarious, because of their inaccuracies.

“Your flight to London is ready to board on Runway 2.”
No, you don’t board planes on runways.

“Close the luggage duct.”
No, it cannot be opened or closed from the cockpit, and it is called ‘Cargo Hold’.
By the way, cargo holds are not as high above the ground as shown, or some airlines would have damaged your checked-in baggage even more than they do now!

“This Boeing’s luggage section is connected with the tail end.”
No, it is not. You cannot enter the airplane’s passenger cabin from the cargo hold in a Boeing 737-200.

“Go to Row 51.”
No, there aren’t so many rows in that plane. It has just about 30 or so.

The ‘distress alarm button’ a Minister claims to have installed on pilots’ seats does not exist and was never fitted. We do have a transponder through which we can send distress signals in addition to the radio, but that’s not hidden out of sight.

Next to the mythical distress button is a text written in bad English, saying: “Seat must face forward or aftward on take off & landing.”
No, there’s no word as ‘aftward’, and how would any pilot take off or land, looking back instead of at the runway?

“Sandstorm expected at 5.30 AM.”
No, we don’t use AM and PM because of the likely confusion. We would say 0530 or 1730. Also, sandstorms, thunderstorms and wife-storms can never be predicted to the minute. (For my friends in aviation, that warning was for KPIT, Pittsburgh Airport in USA; and not for Dubai International, which is OMDB.)

That sandstorm hits punctually as predicted, and disappears quite soon, after which there’s not a speck of sand or dust anywhere, not on the planes or on people’s faces and clothes. And nobody coughs even once! I’ve experienced several sandstorms when posted in Rajasthan while in the IAF. Believe me, even after you close all doors and windows, fine sand enters your home through minute gaps and it takes days of cleaning to get rid of it.

“The air pressure dips in a stationary plane.”
Really? Why? A Nobel Prize in Physics if you can find the answer!

“Issue Runway 2 and seal the airspace.”
Just how does one ‘issue’ a runway and ‘seal’ the airspace? Figure that out. I couldn’t!

So, overall, the film is just about okay, but only for entertainment, not for information.

I’m aware of RAW’s recruitment methods, and they are refined; not as raw as lifting a man off the street with his head covered in a jute bag.

Indian diplomats are suave and smart, unlike the ones shown, one of whom spends half the film in a designer night suit that pretends to be a Safari dress suit.

As a backup plan, our Army is to storm the plane. But the unit chosen, ‘Poona Horse’, is an Armoured Regiment. Which means they fight using battle tanks, unlike the Commandos who are trained to tackle terrorists in a plane.

I was impressed on seeing a Dubai official quote Gandhi – the original Gandhi, the Mahatma. And he also talks about the INA – Indian National Army, commanded by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in 1940s. But one just couldn’t understand how INA was remotely relevant to the hijack in 1984.

The makers claim that the movie is inspired by true events, which is inspiring but not quite true.

How true is true anyway? Are there twenty-six shades of truth too? From absolute truth to Bollywood truth to… zealous truth?

Here are the facts.

Two hijacks happened in 1984.

An amazing and true coincidence is that a Flight Purser, Mr D. K. Mehta, was on board in both the flights and was lucky enough to survive both the hijackings.

One was flight IC 405, in July, which ended with a whimper in Lahore after the Pakistani authorities arrested the hijackers.

The other was flight IC 421 in August, where the plane landed in Dubai. It concluded with the hijackers getting away, in exchange for the safe return for the passengers. The hijackers were neither arrested by us, nor brought to India.

But in both those hijackings, as per publicly available information, RAW saw no action; unless the filmmakers know some secrets that we lesser mortals don’t.

But they called it flight IC 691. So, maybe, they don’t know that they don’t know?

Or they think the viewers too won’t know?

Oh no!

©Avinash Chikte

Picture Credits:

Boeing aircraft – Wikimedia Commons.
Hindi name – from the film’s titles.

14 thoughts on “Bell Bottom – A Tale Without a Bottom”

  1. Such a sensible and informative review. And for the love of God, why don’t these Bollywood folks rely on experts like you to avoid these glaring holes. Btw, they should pursue you to adapt your book for a movie.

  2. Dear Captain,

    Good Day!!

    I read your review for “”Bell Bottom” to the DOT. Perfectly written highlighting out the facts. I would like to point out two things :

    01. Sadly there are a very few Filmmakers in India who are passionate about film making with accurate details about the subject. They don’t even bother to gather basic information on the subject. (For Eg. in this case “Goto Row 51” or “Sandstorm expected at 5.30 PM or AM whatever”) This is a very basic information that Aviation Industry uses 24 Hr.
    Clock. With minimum effort this could have been avoided. The Filmmakers are only concerned about the Box Office collection. This is one of the reason why people are more inclined towards the OTT platform. Most of the Hollywood films are well researched and executed.

    02. Secondly and most importantly, our Audiences are also not matured enough and are not interested in details. They watch the movie for entertainment and for the Actor (HERO as they call it) and worship them even if the Actor does not have basic common sense. Unfortunately the younger generation is also in the same boat except maybe 1-2% of t hem. I could easily understand as I am from the Aviation Industry as well here in Dubai.

    I will now check out all your reviews and blogs.

    Keep Writing, I am sure more and more people would like to read such knowledgeable reviews.

    Flay Safe.

    Rajesh Shah
    @catchraj – Instagram

  3. Vinayak Deodhar

    Wow! Your review has raised curiosity levels to great heights to see this film based on “true events”… whatever is meant by that. It’s always funtime watching such movies!!!

  4. Avinash bhai ! Spot On as usual ! Keep them coming ! Your entertaining musings are so refreshing ! Happy Landings ! 👌👍👍👍

  5. Wg Cdr Harinder Singh ( Retd)

    A nice review with sound knowledge. Film makers and directors have called a meeting on how to satisfy a knowledgeable critic. I am sure after your review film makers and directors would do more research on details. Thanks for keeping everyone informed

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