Make way for over-the-top profanity and delightfully absurdist humour. Delhi Belly is a raunchy, witty and irreverent film that is bound to please all but the most strait-laced audiences. I haven't had this much fun at the movies in a long, long time.
Newbie Akshat Varma’s script is hilarious and bitingly perceptive. Delhi Belly is perhaps the first Hindi film to not just understand potty humour as a pop cultural form, but to play it like a master pianist. You can’t help but grab your stomach and guffaw as the bumbling trio of Tashi (Khan), Arun (Das) and Nitin (Roy Kapoor) stumble through a landscape defined by stolen diamonds, botched shootings, dumb sexism and gleeful disrespect of the commode. What works here is that these characters are very real — they bicker and blunder like idiots but not like movie characters, and they toss snappy one-liners the way you and I slough off dead skin-cells.
For most of its short 90-minute runtime, Delhi Belly is sly and darkly humorous, and the post-modern satire playfully deconstructs most Bollywood genres and cliches. I'm aware that Bollywood is an easy target in today’s movies, but the intentionally crude dialogue and the plot move quickly and humorously enough to make me believe that the film is smarter than it is lazy. Rather than A-list stars, sophomore Deo directs relatively unpopular actors and gives them a new chance to shine. Moreover, he has taken Shehnaz Treasurywala, an actress who killed our brain cells in films like Radio, and actually made her likeable in her brief cameo.
Here we have three youngsters — an unseasoned reporter Tashi, a meek cartoonist Arun and an unkempt photographer Nitin — slumming it at a rundown Delhi apartment. A particularly nasty day begins as Tashi’s fiancé (Treasurywala) decides to hitch him, Arun’s girlfriend dumps him, and Nitin’s appetite begins to overpower him. Enter new colleague Menaka (Poorna), followed by an unhygienic piece of tandoori chicken, and all hell breaks loose. The excrement finally hits the ceiling when Nitin’s stool sample gets mixed up with a Russian doll containing diamonds, much to the annoyance of smuggler Somayajulu (Raaz).
But never mind the story. It doesn’t have layer upon layer of intrigue, and except for the blackmail subplot involving Nitin and a prostitute, Delhi Belly could have been a short story published in an adult version of Tinkle. It's fun, but that's not the point. The point is how screwy it all is, with Deo playing with the rules of Hindi movies. As for the dialogue, I won't repeat any of the uproarious lines that pass between the characters, in part because they often feature ferocious swear words, but also because they'll be funnier if you discover them yourself. Rest assured, the jokes are about as lowbrow and raunchy as any filmmaker in India will ever get with an ‘A’ rating.
It's not high art, nor is Delhi Belly even close to the pinnacle of originality, but it is a jolly good time nonetheless. The running gag of Nitin’s protesting stomach reigns smack down in the middle of the plot, and miraculously it never comes across as tawdry. Vijay Raaz seems have a whole lot of fun as a gangster — it’s clearly the best thing he has ever done. Kunaal Roy Kapoor does well as the typical ‘fat guy with flatulence issues’; Vir Das is quite likeable as well. Imran Khan sans the irritating chocolate boy look is surprisingly good here. The trio’s English delivery is mostly convincing.
What works best in the film is the subtle, smooth nature of the comedy — the actors don’t try too hard, nor do they make stupid faces to extort laughs from you. Another big positive is the restrained use of music — unlike in Rohit Shetty and Sajid Khan products, there are no loud, annoying musical cues that accompany every joke.
Deo directs with a zippy pace and clarity. The only problem is that Delhi Belly is overtly calculated, and the songs, though gorgeously relegated to the background, are mercilessly sliced and diced. Hat tip to producer Aamir Khan for shepherding a zany, truly cheeky jet black comedy for adults in an industry that generally delivers stuff like Ready and Tees Maar Khan. Mr Khan even makes sure you stay during the end credits where he makes a hilarious cameo.
Delhi Belly is lethally funny and cynical. It is so gaudy and profane that you can't say it isn't fun in its own exuberant way. Do watch.
First published in DNA