You don’t have to be a foreigner to suffer Delhi Belly in India. Apparently natives can also fall foul to a bad case of the runs thanks to eating tandoori chicken handled by crotch scratching, nose-blowing, sweat drenched street cooks. Who’d have thought it? Well, Akshat Verma for one.
As the writer and associate director of Delhi Belly, his idea to use the common affliction as the seed for a comedy caper has just helped kick start a new genre in Indian cinema – that of the English language adult comedy with a cheeky gangster twist. Like the crazy love child of American Pie, Pulp Fiction and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Delhi Belly is a riotous entertainer that deserves attention and success.
With the tagline “Shit Happens” and an Adult rating (equivalent of a UK 18 certificate), Delhi Belly is clearly not meant for family viewing. It’s aimed at young, English speaking, urban audiences who enjoy watching Hollywood blockbusters and new wave independent Indian movies at air-conditioned multiplexes. They want their films to be modern, edgy and dare I say racy. Delhi Belly is all three of these and more. The more part being genuinely funny.
The premise is simple; three friends get into trouble when they mix up a stool sample with a packet entrusted to them for delivery. Unknowing to all of them is that the mysterious packet actually belongs to a smuggler. All hell breaks loose when the trio realise the mistake and stupidly attempt to rectify the situation.
The friends in questions are journalist Tashi (Imran Khan), photographer Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapoor) and cartoonist Arup (comedian Vir Das). Delhi bachelors through to the core, they burp, fart, scheme and swear their way through the day. While Tashi is caught between love for his prim air hostess girlfriend Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala) and lust for sexy colleague Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), glutton Nitin is busy stuffing his face and taking indecent photographs of busty actresses, murder victims and married men in compromising positions with prostitutes.
Arup on the other hand is trying to deal with a two timing churail (witch) and his annoying boss who wants him to make cartoon bananas seem “seven percent less happy”. When Vijay Raaz’s smuggler gets on their back while attempting to track down his precious loot, it’s a case of running for their lives.
Offering platefuls of defecation, fornication and masturbation jokes, and plenty of on screen smoking, swearing and sexual innuendo, Delhi Belly is a fresh, funny and full on affair. Like Hollywood screenwriter/director/producer Judd Apatow who has cornered the market in gross out comedies aimed at freaks and geeks (read guys), Verma is determined to both shock and entertain. He succeeds. This is a film your mother would not approve of nor need to see. It would put her off chicken drumsticks and orange juice for life. (Watch the film and you’ll understand.)
However, by seemingly cramming in every provocative subject and juvenile gag under the sun into his two hour script, Verma could be accused of trying a little bit too hard. An area which he should have tried harder perhaps is his sketchy female characters that come across as mere vehicles to move along plot.
Director Abhinay Deo does a deft job of keeping track of the frantic storyline and coaxes good performances from his ensemble cast. Kapoor and Das in particular shine out for their effortlessly funny performances as Nitin and Arup. Kapoor has the meatier lines but Das deserves an award alone for his pelvis-thrusting, disco-dancing performance to the Jaa Chudail song. It’s one of the highlights of the film. Another high point is the fantastic soundtrack by composer Ram Sampath and lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya. After penning the immensely popular Emosonal Atyachar for Dev D, his Bhaag D.K. Bose is on its way to becoming this summer’s anthem.
Despite being the star attraction, Bollywood heartthrob Imran is the weakest of the three leads, perhaps due to his character Tashi being less quirky or foul mouthed than his two flatmates.
However, his decision to appear in Delhi Belly shows there is more to him than a sweet faced, sugary Hindi hero. If only uncle and producer Aamir had decided to take a back seat. His special appearance as a Mithun Chakraborthy style 80s Bollywood disco dancer cum fighter character at the end is an unnecessary attempt to hog the limelight and only serves to highlight the age difference between him and the young cast.
While credit goes to Los Angeles based NRI Verma for creating a farce that pushes the boundaries of Indian comedy and will no doubt offend many conservative Indians, Delhi Belly will be nothing new to audiences who have seen The Hangover and other such films. By putting their money behind this project, producers Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao and UTV Motion Pictures boss Ronnie Screwvala have taken a bold step to make a picture that on the surface resembles a Bollywood film but sounds or behaves nothing like one. Opening weekend will tell whether their gamble has paid off.
If news reports are to be believed, Delhi Belly was apparently shot in 2008 but held up in post production for three years while producer Aamir finished off Tare Zameen Par, Peepli Live and Dhobi Ghat. An element of doubt and risk on whether Indian audiences are ready for such a film was probably also a cause of the hold-up. Despite the delay, Delhi Belly is worth the wait.
Delhi Belly releases worldwide 1st July 2011.