Kumar also discussed his next projects and whether, given his huge following, he could be tempted into other fields such as politics.
Directed by Ranjit Tewari (Lucknow Central), Bellbottom [one word, according to the producers] also stars Vaani Kapoor (War), Huma Qureshi (Leila), Adil Hussain (Life of Pi), Denzil Smith (Tenet) and Lara Dutta (Hundred). Script comes from Aseem Arrora (Malang) and Parveez Shaikh (Bajrangi Bhaijaan).
The film is a Pooja Entertainment production in association with Emmay Entertainment, produced by Vashu Bhagnani, Jackky Bhagnani, Deepshikha Deshmukh, Monisha Advani, Madhu Bhojwani and Nikkhil Advani. Release is slated for April 2.
According to the producers, the movie is the first major Bollywood production to begin and wrap during the pandemic. The filmmakers chartered a plane to get the 200 crew to Scotland where they isolated and worked in a ‘bubble’. At his own suggestion, Kumar is said to have worked double shifts for the first time in 18 years in order to fast-track production and save costs.
Below is our chat with screen icon Kumar.
DEADLINE: Plot details have largely been kept under wraps for your new film. Can you tell us a little about the movie and what drew you to the project?
AKSHAY KUMAR: Bellbottom is an espionage thriller and a very fine one if I say so myself, revolving around a hijack. It’s an original screenplay, set in the 80’s, inspired by true events which made it extremely exciting for me. It is a roller-coaster ride from start to finish with what will hit you next being extremely hard to fathom. How would I not want to make something so thrilling?
DEADLINE: What about the coronavirus protocols on set — how much of an adjustment that was for you and colleagues?
KUMAR: Being Bollywood’s first film to shoot at an international location after the nationwide lockdown, we wanted to be as sure as possible about the safety of everyone around us, hence an extensive and meticulous safety measures plan was laid out by the production house, Pooja Entertainment, hoping to accomplish a smooth and safe shoot.
Besides medical-grade masks and face shields, the production house also made it mandatory for the cast and crew to wear wrist watches that constantly monitored 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 so as to avoid the need to order food from restaurants.
Furthermore, there was an on-set doctor, looking into the vitals of all 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 was rigorously disinfected.
DEADLINE: Was the plan always to shoot in Scotland or was that necessitated by COVID? How challenging was it on the whole?
KUMAR: So, the plan was always to shoot in the United Kingdom but Scotland got zeroed in on as it matched all of our requirements in terms of locations, aesthetics that we were looking for and a more controlled environment to work in during this pandemic. 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.
Planning a film’s production by itself is a Herculean task, add to that the safety and security of a 225-member crew was an even bigger task. But kudos to the production team, they did a stellar job.
Mission accomplished! After a long but fruitful schedule, grateful to have shot and completed #Bellbottom during the pandemic ! Now its time to head back #JetSetGo ✈️
.@Vaaniofficial @humasqureshi @LaraDutta @vashubhagnani @ranjit_tiwari @jackkybhagnani @honeybhagnani pic.twitter.com/snIPE8XdkZ
— Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar) October 2, 2020
DEADLINE: India has just passed 6 million COVID cases. Generously, you have been very active in the relief effort. What is your message to the country and your fans at this challenging time?
KUMAR: As things start opening up and people get on with their lives, there is bound to be a rise in cases. But we should not be casual, the virus hasn’t gone anywhere so please wear your masks and maintain social distancing. Also help whoever you can in whichever way you can. In these challenging times, all we have is each other.
DEADLINE: What is next for you in terms of movies or TV?
KUMAR: Well, that’s a bit complicated to answer given the times we live in…I have a lot of nexts. Next to release on an OTT platform is a horror-comedy Laxmmi Bomb. It’s a transgender revenge story, which launches on 9th November, 2020. Then ready for release but awaiting a release is Sooryavanshi, an action-packed super cop saga. Another next that I will go back to filming once I return to Mumbai is Prithviraj, a period drama.
DEADLINE: Would you be interested in making more English-language work?
KUMAR: I’m very content with making Hindi films. It’s the language I think in, dream in; and make movies in. So I will continue making films in Hindi, but I’m more than happy if they are dubbed or subtitled to reach a larger audience.
DEADLINE: You are someone with an enormous reach in India [Kumar has close to 90M followers on Twitter and Instagram alone]. Do you ever think about entering a different field such as politics?
KUMAR: No, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, politics is not my agenda, I’m happy doing what I do. I love films and in my opinion that is the best way I can contribute to my country because I feel that what I am doing through my films, I will never be able to do through politics.