Last night I had the chance to see the rollicking Indian comedy Delhi Belly for the second time, and the only stomach pains I came away with were ones from laughter! The story of three slacker friends unwittingly getting involved with a smuggling ring, Delhi Belly is very much a film about young Indians doing what 20-somethings all over the world do: swear, drink, have sex, get into trouble… and fall in love along the way! It stars Imran Khan (Kidnap, Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na), Kunaal Roy Kapur, Vir Das, Poorna Jagannathan (Royal Pains), Shenaz Treasury (Rama, OLTL) and Vijay Raaz (Monsoon Wedding) — with a special cameo appearance by producer and uber-star Aamir Khan (Lagaan, Ghajini, et al). I spoke with both Jagannathan and Treasury some weeks ago, and you can read the resulting article here.
My first viewing of Delhi Belly, at a press screening before the film’s July 1 release, elicited a combination of nervous giggles and pearl-clutching, so shocked was I by this brash departure from the typical “Bollywood” masala film. Even though the genre has become more and more daring over the years, a short, saucy flick with 80 percent English dialogue… at least 50 percent of which seems to be swear words… is uncharted territory! I was too busy going “Oh my God!” and hiding my eyes from the (literal!) toilet humor to really appreciate the tight writing and pacing of the film! This time around, I was able to relax and catch so many more jokes, in both English and Hindi, and really appreciate the physical comedy. There is so much to be amused by; I was very glad that the urge to crack up outweighed my “delicate sensibilities.”
“There’s no huge message,” Jagannathan said to me of the film. “You’re just laughing… and I love that about it.” It turns out, that’s what I loved about it, too!
Khan, Kapur and Das have a fantastic chemistry that really makes this film. In the hands of the wrong trio, the banter between Tashi, Nitin and Arup could’ve fallen flat, or come off as vulgar rather than funny. But the actors complement each other perfectly. My personal favorite was Das, who gave Arup a sweetness and vulnerability, but also a biting wit. He had some of the best lines in the movie! The women, too, really embody their roles. Jagannathan’s Menaka is a no-nonsense, sexy woman who knows what she wants. Treasury’s bubbly Sonia is just clueless enough to put the entire adventure into motion, and has one of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments in the film. After I got all the shock out of my system, I was really glad to see how confident both women were in their sexuality. I know people think of India as the land of the Kama Sutra, but when it comes to outward acknowledgment of the sensual, the attitude is more like, “Close your eyes and think of India!” It’s very conservative. So, having Menaka and Sonia both “go for it” with the direction-less Tashi was pretty awesome!
Delhi Belly is definitely a change from the traditional Bollywood formula films, where heroes and heroines chastely frolic in a field of mustard flowers, while the villains are the ones spouting Hindi expletives and embracing earthy sexuality. This movie is rough, it’s raw, it never stops moving… and there’s an honesty therein that feels a lot more relatable than a starry-eyed Raj and Simran. “This is the India we live in,” pointed out Treasury. “This is really how it is now.”
“Sometimes, when you see a product, you know you have something special. Everyone worked really hard on this,” confided Jagannathan. “Everyone feels they have something that’s pretty darned good.” Since I left the theater quoting all the hilarious lines and singing, “I hate you like I love you [in brackets!],” I think the cast and crew are right: Delhi Belly is pretty darned good. I can’t wait to see what impact this has on future blockbuster films coming out of Mumbai. Will Indian moviegoers be able to digest such a radical trend?