DELHI BELLY. Director: Abhinay Deo. Players: Imran Khan, Poorna Jagannathan, Kunal Roy Kapoor, Vir Das, Shehnaz Treasuryvala, Vijay Raaz. Music: Ram Sampat. Theatrical release (UTV). In English, with no sub-titles. Parental advisory: Mature theme, extensive sexual references and crude humor.
Crude and rude movies succeed when they can juxtapose popular discourse on topical themes on top of superbly timed comic delivery that sums up an outward—often vulgar—expression of the audience’s silent, albeit laugh-out-loud, reaction. In Hindi movies, Aamir Khan used this shotgun approach extremely well with 3 Idiots while Hollywood went to town with the same loaded guns in the Hangover franchise.
What Aamir Khan’s new offering Delhi Belly wanted to be was to have us imagine a parallel universe where the trio that formed the 3 Idiots, instead of settling down in a blissful ashram-like setting in the Himalayas, had moved to Delhi to start careers. What we get instead is a corny, mildly amusing comedy that anemically teeters at the same level as the over-written script that has a disturbingly serious preoccupation with all things scatological.
First things first. Aamir Khan devising an all-English language movie in a “Bollywood” offering is interesting up until about 15 minutes into the movie when one begins to suspect that the only reason Delhi Belly is in English instead of in Hindi is because Indian censors, which generally better tolerate English cuss words in Hindi movies than Hindi cuss words, would very likely have turnedDelhi Belly into a silent movie if the script had been in Hindi. (Editor’s Note: A dubbed Hindi version does indeed soften the language.) After the novelty of the 10th F-bomb dropping in the first five minutes wanes—no, really, count ‘em—a plot of sorts emerges involving a trio of struggling Delhi underachievers. Led by Tashi (Imran Khan), a journalist, the band also includes Nitin (Kapoor), Tashi’s photographer and Arup (Das), a mousy comic strip artist.
The men’s sedate daily routine takes a faster track after Tashi agrees to ferry a courier package for his girlfriend Sonia (Treasuryvala). The package moves around from one buddy to another. Unbeknownst to any of them, the package carries smuggled contraband.The three Delhi idiots suddenly find their lives go from simply eking out a living to a fast-moving train wreck in very short order.
The casting call is for slapstick comedy. Translation: there are roles galore for anyone who can aimlessly swing a gun out of a moving car, take wild jabs at party-goers, any men who can cross-dress as a burqa-clad would-be female diamond thief or crash into the home of total strangers to use their loo. The comedy lacks spontaneity and feels forced. The only emotional resonance is registered by Tashi’s co-worker Meneka (newcomer Jagannathan), a silently suffering, and married career woman having second thoughts about her life choices. After that, it’s back to the slapstick and the scatological jokes. Even the all-tongue, no holds barred full mouth to mouth smooch Tashi and a gal pal get into feels anti-climatic. And to think that only five years ago, a far more chaste kiss between Hrithik Roshan and Alshwarya Rai in Dhoom 2 became all the rage in India and even had at least one lawsuit filed against those stars for “vulgarity.”
Aamir Khan & Co want to both parody cinema and remain above the fray. Witness Aamir Khan’s cameo as a retro disco dancer meant to invoke Mithun Chakraborty’s superstar persona. Sadly, it brings to mind only Shahrukh Khan’s title song from Om Shanti Om.
There is a sense or irony that the script struggles to overcome and never quite gets there. When Tashi and Meneka deadpan in a Q&A session with a massively self-absorbed starlet, Tashi and Meneka’s facial expression betray too much smirkiness for us to enjoy the irony being exploited.
There then is the movie’s promo. As if the specter of a toilet tank coming crashing down to the digital Dolby multi-track sounds of flatulence were not sufficiently, as the Brits would say, off-putting, then the concept of a voiceover that resembles Bachchan’s magnificent baritone introducing a vignette of Aamir Khan’s better and better known movies Lagaan, 3 Idiots and Dhobi Ghat fade out only to fade into sounds yet more flatulence. This pretty much sums up theDelhi Belly experience. Just when one thinks that the Aamir Khan name was becoming synonymous with excellent cinema, Khan perpetrates this corny, foul-mouthed, mediocre two-hour fart joke that is mostly just not funny.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.