Lara Dutta Bhupathi turned out to be the surprise element in the trailer of Ranjit Tiwari’s spy-thriller BellBottom, set in the 1980s. The actress plays former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In the last few years, Lara has directed her attention towards characters, largely in the content created for the OTT platform. In a chat with BT, the actress spoke about the transition she sees in storytelling, being offered worthwhile characters and more. Excerpts:
A common reaction to the trailer of BellBottom is that you went unnoticed in it, in the first instance. No one expected you to play Mrs Indira Gandhi, our former Prime Minister.
Well, the reactions have been overwhelming, and a common feedback is that people could not easily place me in the trailer. Honestly, even I was overwhelmed when I saw myself in the mirror for the first time in the get-up, with prosthetics and the wig in place. I could not find Lara anywhere in the mirror. As an actor, it means something to me to be able to convincingly pull that off. It’s an honour to play Mrs Indira Gandhi.
Tell us about what went into the process — physically and mentally — to play her part? When Akshay (Kumar, her co-star in the film) called me and told me they were casting for BellBottom and they wanted me to play Mrs Gandhi, I took it as a joke. Of course, I realised he is serious. I was concerned as we had nothing in common, not one feature that made me look like her. There was no resemblance whatsoever. But he was convinced because the producers and he wanted an actress who had a certain poise and presence. When you get such a part, as an artiste, you don’t pass it on. I had to be immensely responsible while portraying Mrs Gandhi on screen, it had to be done appropriately. A lot of prep went into it. Right from watching a lot of her videos pulled out from archives, footage of her speeches, which helped me study her mannerisms, and also what she stresses on when she speaks. My father (LK Dutta, Retd Wing Commander) has served as her personal pilot. I had heard stories about her from him, about how she would be around different sets of people and how she was as a person. I was a child then, and I used to be fascinated by her.
But all that my father had told me back then, has helped me to play the character now. An essential aspect of playing the role was to understand her as a person; go beyond adapting her mannerisms and style of wearing clothes. There was a certain environment that she was inhabiting at that time. The 1980s had a certain kind of political and social environment. One had to imagine how Mrs Gandhi would have acted and reacted in those situations. BellBottom is set around a set of highly dramatic events, but she was not thrown into the dramatics at all. She shared a rapport with RN Kao, the founding father of R&AW. She would turn to him in a crisis. It’s depicted very well in the film. I am excited for people to see what we have created as a film.
At a time when good parts are being written for women, we don’t see you doing too many movies. Are you consciously doing less to balance between work, family and your other areas of interest?
Unless something is challenging, I don’t want to slip my foot into it. I have more or less tried everything from the songs and dances to the comedies and serious films. I have also produced a film in the past. So, something should really push me out of my comfort zone for me to do it. This film did that. I am not just an actor — I am a mother to a nine-year-old child, I have a business running, I have a whole lot of other things taking away my time. If I have to make room for an acting assignment, it will have to be worth the ride. The good part is that the writers are now, more consciously, writing a lot of good roles for women my age. There’s a lot for us to do. They are real characters, with nothing atypical about them. It’s a departure from the suffering woman or the perfect mother. I love the fact that writers are doing such a great job with characters. When there is a chance to imbibe a beautiful character like Indira Gandhi’s, you step forth and embrace it.
When the producers decided to shoot BellBottom, most parts of the world were in lockdown. The decision to travel abroad must have been tough given the scenario in 2020.
It was a tough time and uncertainty was looming large. There was no vaccine, there were all kinds of truths and myths floating around and everyone was stressed. I have to give credit to Vashu Bhagnani and his children, Jackky and Honey, for ensuring that everyone was safe. I think it’s important for the show to go on. The world had already changed a great deal by the time we started shooting. The morale was low when Vashuji stepped forward and decided to take the film on floors and reboot work in the industry. It also takes an actor like Akshay Kumar who believes that we cannot stop functioning, ever, and that we have to find a way to survive this. We went ahead and all of us did mandatory quarantine before the shoot. The normal sightseeing and shopping routines didn’t happen on this outdoor schedule, but no one complained. We stayed within a bubble, with our families around. It just boosted everyone’s morale. We as a team bonded better. This shoot became special on more than one level.