Every now and again comes a film that redefines the cinema of a country, infusing adrenalin into the incredibly staid world of Bollywood. The last time such a seismic event came to pass in the industry was when Dil Chahta Hai released in 2001. It created a template for innumerable imitations, if not in content, then in style. It raised the bar for technical efficiency and smart writing. Exactly a decade later comes Delhi Belly, a film so irreverent, so unapologetic, and so very good that rest assured, it’d be surprising if it didn’t go on to become cult. Interestingly, the only common cog in both wheels: Aamir Khan.
The film’s plot involves diamonds getting mixed up with a stool sample; three kids – Tashi, Arup, Nitin – with love, job, and stomach issues respectively, some goons, and a sort of love triangle. That’s about it: simple story, big movie. Sub plots diverge from the primary narrative, leaving you in some doubt but the sheer brilliance in the way it weaves itself together and contributes to its completeness, is nothing short of spectacular. Delhi Belly is mostly in English and it’s been a long, long time since one saw a film where the actors pull off lines without sounding stilted as if they are in the midst of a school-level drama. Akshat Verma writes dialogue so everyday that it creates instant empathy. The obscenities aren’t around to unsettle, but merely to attest to reality. Yes, it’s graceless, but isn’t also life? Even if toilet humor (and there are heaps of it) were not your thing, I’ll wager you will laugh. The writing will make you want to pay attention; nothing is served up condescendingly on a platter to the desensitized audience. There’s even a punch-line that goes “What is this, Mill on the Floss?” This is a film that respects intelligence while simultaneously being fun, comic, and rude. A heady combination!
Delhi Belly keeps viewers twirled around its little finger. From highway chase sequences to Nitin’s desperation to find a loo; from the play between the gangsters and the boys to Aamir Khan’s rendition of Disco Fighter; the movie elicits targeted responses at whim whether it’s keeping you on the edge of your seat, making you laugh, or simply getting you to go “Ew!”
The film’s cinematography and art direction are flawless to a fault, capturing unsaid nuances. The songs and music are in perfect harmony with the visuals and the sound design is balanced: understated and over-the-top as demanded in the moment.
The only quibble here would be that the movie has a very Mumbai vibe, despite being set in Delhi. The three boys live in a house more likely to be in Mumbai, the goons’ tongue is Mumbai slang, and rarely does the city of Delhi make an appearance.
But all credit in the end must go to the ensemble cast. Kunal Roy Kapoor and Vir Das look nothing like greenhorns and bring much energy to proceedings. Poorna Jagannathan, an offbeat choice, is remarkably subtle and does a brilliant job. Vijay Raaz shows some of that genius spark that he’s lost off late. And finally Imran Khan takes a plunge into risqué territory, undoing the teeny-girl fan base built with the series of assembly-line romcoms, to emerge with what is easily his best performance yet.
Yes this is not a film you can take your mother to, yes the film does not hold back whether it’s dialogue or the unfettered depiction of feces. And if you thought the promo song DK Bose was pushing boundaries, you will come out thinking that it was but a fluffy pink bunny of a primer. Sure large swathes of the cross section will disapprove and reject. But change is coming. And to quote Dylan …
“Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command”
This is a most un-Bollywood mainstream film that throws an open challenge to convention. A 3 and-a-half star film worthy of an extra star because it tells the unpretentious story in an unrestrained, refreshing manner unique to mass Indian sensibilities. Disconcerting as it may be at first, Delhi Belly will ultimately win you over.