The film is a fictionalized account of the 1980s hijackings carried out by the Khalistani separatists. Between 1981 to 1984, multiple airlines flying from India were hijacked, mostly by Khalistani separatists and militants.
Bell Bottom primarily focuses on the August 1984 hijacking, though it takes inspiration from the other events as well, such as the August 1982 hijacking, where a police officer disguised as a pilot boarded the flight and overpowered the hijackers with the help of the passengers.
Just over a month after Indian Airlines jet IC 405 was hijacked, on August 24, 1984, a group of seven hijackers took over Indian Airlines jetliner IC 421, flying from Delhi to Srinagar. The flight was diverted from Srinagar, India to Lahore, Pakistan.
Though reports over the exact number of passengers differ, Aviation Safety Network lists 74 occupants, and zero casualties.
However, the passengers and crew were trapped on board for over 36 hours, from the time the hijackers, all in their 20s, stormed into the cockpit to the time they surrendered (to authorities in Dubai). At the time, it was the longest hijack in Indian aviation history.
Though it ended with zero casualties, what transpired between those 36 hours was one tough ordeal. As per an India Today exclusive report, the militants were initially armed with only a Kirpan (small sword), but somehow acquired a pistol when the flight was grounded in Lahore, Pakistan.
The pistol emboldened the hijackers to further threaten the pilot, Captain V.K. Mehta, to fly according to their demands.
Originally, the hijackers wanted to land in the USA. But they ultimately landed in Dubai, where they surrendered to the UAE authorities after 14-hour-long negotiations.
But for the longest time, the Dubai airport authority did not provide the aircraft permission to land forcing air hostess Rita Singh to address the passengers and prepare them for the possibility of the aircraft landing in the sea. However, at the last moment, they received permission from the Dubai authorities to land. And then the negotiations started, even as the plane remained grounded in the scorching heat.
During the negotiations, the hijackers even threatened to kill a passenger every half hour, and chose K. Subrahmanyam, director of the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, to relay this information to the authorities. Apparently, he was told that he would be the first victim.
However, after intense negotiations, the hijackers relented, apparently when they were promised safe passage to the US. Soon, the passengers and crew were allowed to leave the flight, and the hijackers were transported to an undisclosed location in a white van. Later, the hijackers were extradited to India by UAE.
At the time, it was through the collaborative efforts of both, the Indian and UAE authorities, that the hijacking ended with no casualties. However, at present, the film’s release has reportedly been banned in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, allegedly for historical inaccuracy.
The film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.