Akshay Kumar is one of Bollywood’s biggest stars today and he hasn’t achieved this status by playing it safe, quite the contrary. Moving from his Khiladi status Kumar has really come on to his own, playing characters that have not only been revolutionary, but also far from a stereotypical Bollywood hero. Whether that be Padman or Toilet Ek Prem Katha Akshay has enthralled us all with his choice of films and has excelled.
Once again Akshay is ten steps ahead with his latest Bellbottom being the first film crew to shoot during the pandemic and now the first major Bollywood film to have released in theatres in India. He seems to be once again risking it all but with success. The risk taker is also a mega prankster when on sets, here’s our interview with the mega star, taken before the release of Bellbottom.
Exciting that Bellbottom is the first Hindi film to release in cinemas in India. With the lockdown people got used to watching movies on OTT platforms, what is your personal preference, are you a cinema goer, or do you prefer binging in the comfort of your own home?
Both are different experiences which have their merits in their own individual ways. I think films are made to be showcased to the audience, one way or another. With Covid, circumstances have certainly changed over the past year, meaning OTT streaming was the only viable means of consuming content, but I believe beyond that cinema theatres and OTT platforms can and will co-exist with great success.
A film like Bellbottom is tailored to be showcased to an audience in a theatre where you are able to immerse yourself in the pictures, sounds and overall experience of being in front of the big screen. 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.
Lara Dutta has taken on a very interesting role in Bellbottom and thanks to you we got to see the BTS of her character. Her very first film was with you – Andaz in 2003 and many more films thereafter, if you had to comment on her journey in films, what would you say about her?
Lara is a phenomenal professional and a very talented actress. It’s true, her role in Bellbottom is very interesting and her transformation is synonymous with her versatility as a performer and great credit must also be given to makeup artist Vikram Gaikwad and his team for making her role appear so authentic. I have worked with Lara for almost two decades as you say and her journey has been so successful, but not surprising. She really does dive headfirst into her work, and she is brilliant in Bellbottom as you will see. I felt Lara would always do this character justice.
It’s been a while since we have seen you in an espionage thriller, and our office was just reminiscing about your action and stunts in your earlier films. So, it’s so good to see you back in this genre. In terms of action and stunts what can audiences expect from Bellbottom.
Audiences can expect plenty of action, balanced with suspense. The beauty of Bellbottom is that there is a perfect mix between scenes of high-octane action, with scenes where the suspense and tension will drive you to the edge of your seat.
But it’s true, Bellbottom certainly entails plenty of stunts and explosive moments. You would have caught glimpses of it in the trailer.
You filmed extensively in Scotland and London and made history as the first film crew to shoot a film in an international location amidst the pandemic. What was it like being on the sets in such a scenario and how does it feel to have been part of this historic milestone?
Being the world’s first film to shoot at an international location after the nationwide lockdown, the safety of our team was of absolute priority. There were extensive and meticulous safety measures in place as laid out by the production house, Pooja Entertainment, to enable a smooth and safe shoot.
Besides medical-grade masks and face shields, the production house had also made it mandatory for the cast and crew to wear a wrist watch, that would constantly monitor their oxygen levels, body temperature, blood pressure, stress levels and pulse via a centralised dashboard.
Along with this, everyone was instructed to live within the premises in bubbles, to minimise interaction with the outside world. Chefs were also appointed for the team to avoid the need to order food from restaurants.
There was an on-set doctor looking into the vitals of all of the crew members on a daily basis and every 15 days the entire crew would take a mandatory Covid test. There was a sanitisation tunnel installed for the crew to use before starting the day’s work and at the end of the day, each day, the set got disinfected.
The Scottish government and the authorities were a big help in this, guiding and supporting us each step of the way, ensuring a smooth sailing of the schedule.
We’ve always asked you about your pranks on sets and you’ve always given us some hilarious stories….Are there any you can share for Bellbottom?
I think it helps build a camaraderie between everyone and eases the work environment. I can recall one such prank alongside my cast member Adil Hussain. In one of the scenes Adil had to wear a certain watch for the purpose of continuity, but just before we started filming I shook his hand and somehow managed to get hold of the watch without his knowledge. Just before we started filming the assistant director came over and started asking ‘Adil sir, where is your watch? We need it to continue this scene’… Adil had no idea at all that I had taken it. He couldn’t understand why it was no longer on his wrist!
Vaani referred to you as a very funny person to work with, so what I want to know is how do you be so jovial on sets and humorous, but then can go straight into a scene that is the complete opposite and intense. As an actor, how do you manage to switch and get back into character so easily? Not all actors can do so effortlessly.
As I said, I like to keep spirits high in between filming. Being on set can be a long day for everybody and so much energy goes into making these films so I think it’s so important to energize people with laughter and the odd prank or two – but once the cameras are rolling, there can be no other distraction. In fact, I feel it helps you concentrate on your scene better.