By Nihal Bambulkar
In an iconic Delhi Belly reveal, a man who goes by the name Cowboy (Vijay Raaz) receives a mysterious package inside a shop called Indian Handicrafts. Earlier in the film, we learn that Cowboy is expecting a package containing pure diamonds worth crores of rupees. He naturally assumes that the Dabur Chyawanprash-like plastic container in front of him has those very priceless contents.
Under the watchful eye of his goons, Cowboy takes a seat, spreads a red velvet cloth across the table before unscrewing the lid of the container. He then fastidiously brushes off the dust and slowly spreads its contents across the cloth. Out comes a trail of watery shit. If that weren’t ridonk enough, then a bald goon even takes up the responsibility of smelling the brown gooey matter, only to exclaim “Sir! Yeh toh tatti hai.”
It’s this one scene that neatly sums up the cult-appeal of the film – its ability to derive compelling comedy from the absurd.
Directed by Abhinay Deo, written by Akshat Verma, and produced by Aamir Khan, Delhi Belly, that turns seven years this week, felt less like an experiment ahead of its time and more like a giant middle finger to Bollywood. In a year that gave us Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, No One Killed Jessica, and Rockstar, Delhi Belly was a film with no A-listers: Its eclectic cast comprised a bunch of relatively unknown names like Imran Khan, Vir Das, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Poorna Jagannathan, and Shenaz Treasurywala. There’s no dancing around trees or inexplicably heightened drama. In fact, the film rewrote the rules of situational comedy in an ageing industry resistant to change.
Delhi Belly was one of the first instances of Bollywood attempting intelligent slapstick comedy, unabashedly covering everything that could offend a regular middle-class Indian moviegoer. From casual profanity to an unpalatable diarrhetic plotline, what made the film’s comedy stand out was how innately Indian it was. Its punchlines reek of a raw Indian sense of humour rooted in the deep recesses of a Hollywood screenplay writer’s mind. Take for instance, “Bhenchod agar phir haath lagaya na toh tere tatte kaat kar jhumke bana dunga.” Or my personal favourite, “Tujhe kya lagta hai, mere sar pe bandook rakhne se, meri gaand maarne ki permission mil gayi tujhe… bhenchod!”
Asscracks seemed to be on permanent display along with apathy toward bathing, and an abundance of Panama cigarettes.
Delhi Belly also didn’t attempt to sugarcoat the typical living conditions of bachelors where a constant state of “urban poverty” paves the way for routine indifference. The rundown house of the film’s leads were replete with unwashed dishes, rotting leftovers, stacks of cheap takeout menus, local Hindi magazines, fragile roofs, intrusive landlords, and the picture of someone’s boss with a dart stuck over it. Asscracks seemed to be on permanent display along with apathy toward bathing, and an abundance of Panama cigarettes. It’s the kind of atmospheric detailing that is not just relatable for a certain kind of millennial, but also assumes a lived-in quality of comic proportions that livens up the film’s proceedings.
And that’s the best part about Delhi Belly. In a sea of formulaic youth-oriented films like Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Love Aaj Kal, and Wake Up Sid, Delhi Belly is the loud fart in the elevator. Despite their commercial success and popularity, the films were gloriously sanitised, and offered a glaring disconnect with younger people. For they perpetuated a candy-floss image of a world where everything falls into your lap so long as you have hope and ache for happy endings. Despite their existential crises, the good-looking leads in these films led carefree lives that didn’t require them to cook, clean, pay rent, or be embroiled in fucked-up situations that progressively got worse.
That’s not to say that we deal with gangsters and stolen diamonds every day. But in real life, bachelors don’t live, they survive. And Delhi Belly accurately represented it. They looked, lived, and loved just like the rest of us, evidenced in the scene where the film’s male lead is shown casually going down on his fiancée. Likewise, it drew its humour from the comedy of daily life: the Kathak teacher who doubles up as that loud neighbour we all recognise, the landlord who is called “Shri Maha Randi Premi” by his own brother, or Arup screaming “Iss ladki ne mera choosa hai!” at the bride in the middle of a wedding.
Much of the film’s charm lies in how it complements its hilarious screenplay (think Tashi dressing up the film’s male leads in burqas for a robbery) with ’80s style music in the backdrop of raw Dilli. The film’s comic set-ups and satisfying payoffs are all centred around highlighting a coked-up version of the capital with its local tandoori chicken sellers, whorehouses, and crowded, narrow market lanes juxtaposed with an upper-class Delhi lifestyle where people peel bananas with forks and knives.
Even the songs appear like an intrinsic part of the narrative. If Delhi Belly uses “Saigal Blues” with a stoner-esque feel to depict the grungy shithole the bachelors live in, it uses the loop-worthy “Sweety Tera Pyaar” fittingly for a car chase between a lover and his estranged wife, and the surf rock-themed “Jaa Chudail” to show Arup as a disco fighter who’s casually yet dramatically breaking a marriage.
In a film universe criticised for its over-reliance on successful formulae, Delhi Belly subverted the mechanisms by presenting a world where crime and comedy intersect, anchored by a grimy realism. Just last year, both the film’s writer and director tried recreating this very magic with Kaalakandi and Blackmail but failed to even come close. At a time when Bollywood has made a hobby out of “recreating successes” with half-baked modern updates, it’s a relief to know that Delhi Belly’s formula-less existence guarantees that it can never be aped or sullied.
For Delhi Belly managed to do the impossible. It cleverly derived inspiration from Hollywood and still managed to tug at our Indian hearts with the ultimate millennial attitude towards adversity – shit happens.
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