I have been a movie buff since my childhood days, also so passionate about it that I wanted to be a filmmaker and did indeed try in that direction to some extent, still nurturing that ambition. And I always enjoyed the movies on the big screens including those silver screens of the traditional single-screen cinema halls of yore that fitted ideally the 35mm film format and whenever the occasional 70mm films came the frames used to spill over to the sides. I find this very tragic, of course no match to the horrors and sufferings of people due to the pandemic, that for over 18 months now I’ve been deprived of the normal cinema theatre visits and really missing the action. The OTT (Over the Top) streaming platforms thus have become the only alternative, for people like me who puts the entire focus on COVID-19 appropriate behaviour and safety. Therefore, I’ve been watching a lot on such a platform since the first lockdown-always selecting the best of movies available and the most-talked about Series-but limited to only one platform as I don’t want to harm my ears with constant use of headphones. Quite a few of movies are of the golden era and most of the modern ones need no special mention. However, recently I had seen three modern movies and web series of which I’d like to talk about a bit. Latest Bollywood movie Bell Bottom (2021) is one of them which attracted me because of the name that was a craze in our college days, and that the movie was in the lines of effective Indian spy thrillers I enjoyed greatly in the last few years in the modern theatres.
The hero of the movie Akshay Kumar is one more attraction as he was cast in several successful thrillers made by filmmaker Neeraj Pandey like Special 26 (2013), Baby (2015), Rustom (2016) and Naam Shabana (2017). Of course, this movie Bell Bottom is not one of his, but as I said the format seemed to be exciting. Watching the movie I was disappointed in the overall sense: it had an explosive plot that got terribly affected by an inept script. The basic theme of the film, a hijack drama of an Indian Airlines plane (based on a true event during the last term of the then Prime Minister of India, late Indira Gandhi.), got impaired unnecessarily by the prolonged flashbacks, and finally when the plot seemed to be picking up there was not enough time to bring it to a worthy climax. Although the film has similarities with another successful hijack thriller, Zameen (2003) directed by Rohit Shetty, its ultimate climax turned out to be very simplistic and sort of rushed through.
The film no doubt has its high octane moments with the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent, played by Akshay Kumar whose code name is Bell Bottom, going through the investigations and raids on the terrorists’ dens. His RAW boss, indeed well-played by Adil Hussain, is but a pale shadow of the intelligence boss in Baby played by Danny Denzongpa who almost lived through the supercharged drama and action. The characters of the hijackers were also not given sufficient attention with all of them failing to scare the viewers like they did in movies like Baby and Neerja (2016), the latter being very ably directed by Ram Madhvani. The Pakistan intelligence counterpart was also shown half-heartedly. The last twist involving Akshay’s wife, played by Vaani Kapoor, sharing a secret with the RAW boss was only superficial. Some critics are also pointing toward factual errors, but those can be overlooked as ultimately this is a work of fiction. Therefore, the movie Bell Bottom directed by Ranjit Tiwari, though handled well to some extent, fails to be as engrossing and gripping like those movies of the same genre mentioned here.
A surprise was in store when the new OTT web series Mumbai Diaries 26/11, made by known filmmaker Nikhil Advani, became available on air. Having lived through every agonizing moment of that horrific Mumbai Terror Attack on 26th November 2008 through my work in the media, anything about that attack always caught my attention. However, all of the films made on the attack so far were lame attempts, failing to do justice to the terror unleashed. So I started watching the 9-episode Mumbai Diaries 26/11 immediately, and to my great surprise found it very engrossing and doing full justice to the genuine scare still felt by both victims and general people, for the first time. Although it is made from the medical point of view, narrating the story of a Mumbai hospital that finally came under the terror attack, almost all of the horrific moments of the actual three-day reign of fear are being ably captured and presented. Aided by a powerful script the characters, including most prominently the doctors and staff of the hospital, are portrayed with excellent ease and brilliant performances by all actors.
The web series also pointed out the much-discussed ‘media involvement’ that was giving constant leads to the Pakistan control room of terror who thus guided the terrorists in action in Mumbai, and the tragedy unleashed by an overzealous news reporter in this work of fiction was shown with honesty and efficiency. If the chronology of the actual series of events was not followed to details, this was never felt while watching, and again, finally it being a work of fiction such complaining is not necessary. More positively, the Series does not indulge in any gory violence or the glorification thereof and explicit sexuality that have been the hallmark of almost all OTT Web Series streamed in India. In all, the Mumbai Diaries 26/11 is thoroughly watchable for all types of viewers of any age who want to feel the reality of the dastardly terror attack again.
Finally, a Hollywood movie Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021), directed by Taylor Sheridan. With Angelina Jolie in the lead and an interesting storyline of smoke-jumpers for forest fires I watched the movie as soon as it was streamed on my subscribed OTT platform. To my surprise again, I enjoyed it thoroughly, finding not a single slack moment in this slick thriller. What I found refreshing is that the film followed the thriller-genre of the nineties religiously and to exactitude with an immaculately tight script. Of late, most of the Hollywood movies have been devoted to the super visual effects treatment-either showing all-destroying monsters or catastrophe or unimaginable sci-fi stories mostly covering the outer world and the universe. It kind of vindicated my wish, nourished for long years, that Hollywood should come back to basic human dramas which are always acceptable the world over. All the people with a mind-set of this ordinary mortal should, therefore, not miss watching Those Who Wish Me Dead at any cost. Those who can visit the theatres in full safety are the luckiest.