Diamonds and Diarrhoea
When shit replaces diamond, a lot could go woefully wrong. In life and journalism, yes, but quite absurdly and hilariously so in Delhi Belly, one of this week’s releases at the theatre. It’s the job of a smart writer who uses a classic comedic tool for a farce set in modern Delhi. Akshat Verma, the writer of the film—and associate director to director Abhinay Deo—twists this comedy, in the vein of farces by Hollywood’s Farrelly Brothers (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, Me, Myself and Irene), with black humour. So it’s not all sex and scatology, but also an irreverent riff on Indian city life.
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The visual treatment (the cinematography by Jason West is unpretentious and does not enforce stereotypical India hues and frames), pace (it’s a no-intermission film) and the way music is used in the edit, to build momentum in the story, add to the experience.
Three daft boys, Tashi (Imran Khan), a journalist who writes about floozy filmstars, Arup (Vir Das), trapped in a joyless copy-writer’s job in an ad agency and Nitin (Kunal Roy Kapoor), an itinerant photographer with an interminable case of street food-induced diarrhoea, live in a run-down, one-room apartment in Delhi. There are two women in Tashi’s life. Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), a feisty journalist and Sonia (Shehnaz Treasurywala), an air hostess who Tashi is engaged to. When a stool sample meant for a pathology lab gets exchanged with a packet containing smuggled diamonds, hell breaks loose. A gangster (Vijay Raaz) and his henchmen are after the three of them to get the diamonds back.
A laugh riot: There are no surprises in the story but Delhi Bellyis a no-brainer without regressive humour.
There are no surprises at any point in the story—it’s a predictable plot, so you know what’s going to happen next. The writer is more concerned with how scenes and dialogues build the comic moments. Some scenes have crackling wit, and some have loud, crass gags—for most of its running time, Delhi Belly holds your attention because there are no major excesses in the story. Nitin’s roaring tummy, the ‘Delhi belly’ is boring and forced towards the end (since when has Dependal ceased to be an over-the-counter drug? Can’t an amateur photographer afford a doctor in Delhi anymore?), but the film largely keeps the masala fresh and simmering till the end. Nothing quite prepared me though for an entire song picturized on producer Aamir Khan in the end, after the story reaches its cute climax. Khan is in a film in the film called Return of the Disco King and the song, embellished with glittery trappings of the Disco era, is not one of those credit roll songs which has become routine in Hindi films. So you are not really leaving the theatre with the story’s last moment, but with an Aamir Khan number. (Another retro tribute is the beginning title sequence, set to a remixed KL Saigal classic.)
Except for this annoying aside, Delhi Belly is a fun, ‘paisa vasool’ film—unpretentiously so. Most ‘Hinglish’ films made in India attempt to replicate classic Bollywood style of dialogues in English. In this film, the writing is naturally English; you know these characters think in English by watching them. The shit and the swear words seem to fit well in this mad scheme.
Performances are uniformly pitched. This is Khan’s best performance so far, and Das and Kapoor have perfect comic timing. The other star of the film is Ram Sampath, whose music seems integral to experience the film—he uses disco, rock and Indian rhythms for a full, complex but accessible score.
Deo’s Delhi Belly gave me enough laughs in 96 minutes of its running time. Finally, an Indian no-brainer without regressive humour—a laugh riot for a zany, urban India.
Delhi Belly released in theatres on Friday