July 1, 2011
Imran Khan, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Vir Das, Poorna Jagannathan, Vijay Raaz, Shenaz Treasury
There’s nothing particularly more “ashleel” about this film’s “bhaasha” than other Bollywood offerings we’ve seen before – methinks that phrase has been used as a publicity hook by the film makers. I mean, yes Delhi Belly does give us a close-up of human shit (no no, I don’t mean that figuratively, I mean literally a pile of human faeces belonging to a man suffering from diarrhoea). And yes, the characters do use foul language without inhibitions, but I can assure you that my limited vocabulary of English and Hindi abuses has not been dramatically enhanced by watching this film: I don’t recall hearing swear words in Delhi Belly that we hadn’t already heard in Shor In The City, Bhindi Baazaar Inc, Shaitan or Yeh Saali Zindagi released earlier this year.
Ah well, perhaps I don’t understand film marketing techniques as much as I think I do. And none of this should take away from the fact that Delhi Belly is an enjoyable, unconventional Bollywood film! For starters, it’s not in Hindi.* The language is primarily English with a smattering of Hindi, and flows smoothly, sounding just the way you can expect the various characters to sound if you bump into them in Delhi. So the first round of applause should go to the dialogue writing. The story revolves around three friends Tashi, Arup and Nitin, the sight of whose filthy flat could make you puke. Tashi is a journalist who is marrying his girlfriend under family pressure. Nitin is his photographer colleague with lax morals and worse eating habits. And Arup is a frustrated cartoonist in an ad agency whose girlfriend has just unceremoniously dumped him. Their lives go into a karma-spurred spiral when a pouch of diamonds enters the picture and gets mixed up with a stool sample.
The mix-up that leads to everything else is a trifle too convenient to be credible, but that doesn’t alter the fact that Delhi Belly is unrelentingly amusing and telling at the same time. In fact, the film is so well done that it’s hard to believe it’s been made by the same director behind that Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Game. Must say Aamir Khan as a producer seems to have a good influence on the directors he signs up.
The film’s title of course is a reference to a term used to describe what could happen to your stomach if you are not careful about your eating habits in the nation’s capital – both literally because of Nitin’s stomach upset that lasts throughout the film and figuratively because of the dirt the story digs up. Now a round of applause please for the film’s casting director who has handpicked each actor with affection and attention, giving us a cast that fits their parts to a T, a U and a V. Imran Khan as Tashi has been more effectively used here than in any of his films since Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Here’s an actor with a likeable screen presence but a so-far limited range who clearly benefits greatly from associating with a good director. Khan needs to work on his Hindi diction for other roles, but as the primarily English-speaking Tashi in Delhi Belly he is just fine. Kunaal Roy Kapur (Nitin) is a natural. And Vir Das is so inherently funny, that I don’t feel like analysing his acting skills: he just made me smile … a lot.
But the stand-out performances in Delhi Belly come from a newcomer and a veteran. Poorna Jagannathan who plays Tashi’s colleague has a casual ease before the camera that matches her casual, un-self-conscious sex appeal. And Vijay Raaz as a gangster is so damn good that I hope he’s on every Best Supporting Actor nominations list when the awards ceremonies come around by end-2011.
Delhi Belly is as much a celebration of basic human goodness as it is an essay on how “shit happens” unexpectedly for no fault of ours. If you withdraw a blackmail threat because your intended victim turns out to be a nice guy, you couldn’t be all-bad, right? The USPs of the film are its wry sense of humour and refusal to mince words while saying what it has to say. On the downside, there is a certain repetitiveness that bothered me when it seemed like the director had discovered a device he found edgy and wanted to make sure we noticed it. In the opening scene, Arup and Nitin are in bed – separate beds – in their flat, heads enveloped in sheets, and the camera gives us a shot of Nitin’s (I think) butt crack. But just in case we didn’t spot it the first time, it’s shown to us again, and then again! Okay, I got it, you’re cool enough to show an Indian audience a man’s half-exposed bum! Now move on, please! Likewise, it was entertaining to see Nitin seated on a commode the first time, and perhaps even a second, because we’re not used to seeing such things in Hindi films – but then Tashi’s girlfriend is also shot on a pot, then Nitin is back in the loo, then his stomach gurgles, then he’s back on the toilet seat, then his belly grumbles again, then … and then it just felt childish.
The closing song-and-dance featuring Aamir also felt like an unnecessary and irrelevant add-on. Was he not confident enough of this film that he felt the need to make it more saleable with an item number? Oh no! Et tu Aamir?! Instead, I wish I wish that Ram Sampath’s delightfully raucous DK Bose song had been better used.
Koi nahi, as Delhi-ites would say. Never mind, because in the ultimate analysis, Delhi Belly is frank, funny, in-your-face, unapologetic and unafraid. I had such a good time watching it. My pick of the film’s hilarious moments involves Kathak, a ceiling fan and a very poorly constructed building. Now tell me, what’s yours?
Rating (out of five): ***1/2
CBFC Rating: A without cuts (yes, would you believe it?!)
Running time: 96 Minutes
Language: * English with a few Hindi dialogues (the producers have also released a Hindi version of the film)
Photograph courtesy: http://www.facebook.com/delhibelly?sk=photos