The first thing that strikes me about Delhi Belly is its stylistic resemblance to Guy Ritchie’s movies; sure enough, I read later about Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Smoking Barrels being the inspiration for this film written by Los Angeles resident Akshat Varma.
Varma brings a crisp, international feel to the story of three juvenile roommates in a dingy Delhi one-roomer who inadvertently get involved in a search for a babushka doll containing diamonds. Their madcap adventures around Delhi make for many laugh-out-loud moments, though when the tagline of a movie is “Shit Happens,” one doesn’t expect quite such a literal interpretation.
Delhi Belly belongs to the post-modern Indian film movement inhabited by movies like Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey, though it is much lighter fare; think Ben Stiller in a Tarantino movie. Disastrous events like a roof collapse and a claustrophobic gun fight in an enclosed hotel room are dealt with breezily. There seems to be an implicit understanding between the movie and the audience that none of the principal characters will come to any harm and that the bad guys will get their just desserts. This makes it possible to enjoy the dramatic moments without stress, though it also makes you care less about the characters.
It is a also tad annoying when you see Indian stereotypes being exploited, like the ball-scratching street vendor, but Delhi Belly more than makes up for it with the crackling dialogues, entirely in English, but also very grounded in Indian situational humor, not an easy feat to achieve. Director Abhinay Deo, who also directed the stylish but poorly written Game, does a first class job with a much better script, though mainstream audiences will blanch at the constant swearing and casual sex.
I was surprised to find many Indian English films on Wikipedia, though they are largely art films or productions outside in India. But the language feels comfortable and natural here, as do the sexual situations the characters are portrayed in. Like the characters in Monsoon Wedding, it is obvious that the trio of Tashi (Imran Khan), Arun (an excellent Vir Das), and Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapoor) belong to the educated Delhi elite, and it is a reality of modern India that a whole generation is growing up in the metros without wanting to or needing to speak in the vernacular.
Aamir Khan, who produced DB, pushes the envelop again; with movies like Peepli Live and Delhi Belly, his production house is doing what NFDC used to do in my youth – support emerging filmmakers with innovative ideas who want to explore ideas outside mainstream Bollywood. He’s not the only one, but his presence is surely encouragement for all the other experimenters out there. Plus, the economics of multiplexes obviously makes it possible for these movies to be made – the existence of filmmakers like Dibaker Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap is proof of that.
In Delhi Belly’s case, I suspect much of the revenues would have accrued from the music rights way before the movie released – the songs are wacky, irreverent, and fun. “DK Bose” created an internet sensation when listeners realized what the words actually were when the chorus was repeated. Aamir makes an appearance before the end credits with the peppy item number “I Hate You (Like I Love You)” dressed as Austin Powers…it is a hilarious end to a funny movie.
With its expletive-ridden dialogue, crude humor, and casual sex scenes (no nudity though!) Delhi Belly is about as far from a “family movie” as you can get. If you like the genre, it is a worthy addition. But if what you look for from an Indian film is comforting escapism, this is not the ticket for you. While audiences in India might walk out of screenings, viewers in my local Union City multiplex were roaring with appreciative laughter and unwilling to leave their seats even after the credits started rolling.
Notice I said “Indian films.” DB makes it amply clear that it is time to shed the Bollywood tag. Jai Ho!