When “Bellbottom,” starring Akshay Kumar, releases on Aug. 19, it will be the first major Bollywood film to release in Indian cinemas after a quarter devastated by the deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only 50% of screens in India have reopened and many of them are operating at reduced capacity. The rest, including those in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai and the Bollywood and Marathi-language film industries, remain closed.
The film is an 1980s-set thriller set against the backdrop of a spate of Indian Airlines hijackings by forces hostile to India. Kumar plays an Indian secret agent code-named Bellbottom.
The film is produced by veteran producer Vashu Bhagnani’s Pooja Entertainment (“Coolie No 1”) in association with Emmay Entertainment (“The Empire”).
“Vashu Bhagnani is a bold and brave man and I respect that he is the first to take the leap, despite the fact certain major territories like Maharashtra which constitute for 30% of the business remain closed. Someone had to step forward first, for the sake of the industry, and this has happened with ‘Bellbottom’,” Kumar told Variety.
“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,” Kumar said.
“Bellbottom” was one of the first Indian movies to shoot entirely during the thick of the pandemic, filming in Glasgow in 2020. It is directed by Ranjit M. Tewari (“Lucknow Central”) and also stars Lara Dutta, Huma Qureshi, Vaani Kapoor, Adil Hussain and Denzil Smith.
It is produced by Vashu Bhagnani, Jackky Bhagnani, Deepshikha Deshmukh, Monisha Advani, Madhu Bhojwani and Nikkhil Advani.
“Sometimes, you let your gut instinct lead you. The industry has suffered enormously during the pandemic and the exhibitors have been hit exceptionally hard. This is our way to say, ‘We are with you.’ It is our way to offer a reason for audiences to come back to cinema halls,” producer Deepshikha Deshmukh told Variety.
“Someone has to make a start. We hope the ‘Bellbottom’ release will unlock optimism all around and mark a new beginning not just for us but for the industry as a whole,” Deshmukh said.
During India’s various lockdowns, during which cinemas remained closed, many producers chose to sell their completed films to streamers. “Lakshmi,” starring Kumar, bowed directly on Disney Plus Hotstar and was a big draw for the service.
“At that point in time, there was so much uncertainty and with mounting interest rates, it was a business call which was taken which luckily paid off,” says Kumar. ‘After all, filmmaking is also a business and it needs to make sense commercially.”
“Vaccinations are in place, theaters are being sanitized, people are masking up and able to maintain a physical distance in cinemas,’ said Kumar. “The sooner we embrace the reality of living with COVID, and the small sacrifices we have to make to stay safe, the sooner we can enjoy life again – and cinema experiences are so key to our enjoyment. I’m confident in a really strong return for the industry.”