Delhi Belly is a movie about 3 roommates who end up at the mercy of the local goonda when a shipment of diamonds gets mixed up for a stool sample. With a little help from Lady Bad Luck, a lot of madness and a race against time ensue. With a plot as thin as this, it can be crazy fun, or you can be bored silly. But you have to make it to the theatre first in order to know the answer. So the first question is: how do you make people interested in a plot like this to begin with?
Here's the thing with marketing: unless it's for a product that is ridiculously costly and therefore cognitive dissonance kicks in to justify why you made the expense (cough Apple cough), marketing does not work beyond the true value of the product. At least that's what I like to believe. So marketing a film like Delhi Belly aggressively, which God knows is exactly what we have seen for the past couple of months, can only guarantee that a large amount of arses will be in those theatre seats. Nothing beyond that. It's the quality of the movie during the next 90 minutes that will bring those same arses back, or their friends' arses. Marketing won't do that. A bad film is a bad film is a bad film and no amount of buzz and promos will turn it into a good one. Look at Tees Maar Khan!... Yeah. I rest my case.
On the other hand, lack of good marketing can, and usually does, lead to a good product not succeeding because no one knows about it. And I have way too many film examples for that, I'm sure everyone does.
The fact is Aamir Khan Productions has long been known to have one of the best marketing departments in Bollywood, if not the best. And I know better than to congratulate Aamir Khan for it because he may be one of the brains, but this takes the efforts of a whole team and I think they all deserve equal praise for it. Let me make it clear that I count as marketing everything from various publicity stunts such as "looking for an item girl" for an item number that had already been shot long ago, to promos filled with swearwords, and even to the infamous DK Bose song. It's all marketing, and it's all aimed at getting those arses in those seats.
But much like "the body", the big marketing point of the Ghajini campaign, "the toilet humour" is given way more space in the promotional material (and certainly in reviews) than it actually has in the movie. And in both cases I can only add THANKFULLY at the end of that statement. Maybe because I had read plenty of spoilers about it but I knew every single gross moment before I even walked into the theatre, which helped a lot for me since I am quite squeamish about toilet humour. So you know, I do recommend you do the same if you're anything like me. Though in all fairness I have seen so much worse in more "harmless" Hollywood "comedies", so looking away during a couple of key moments was all it took.
On the other hand, hard language and sex humour don't bother me at all, so I needed no warnings for those, even though there have been many reviews outraged by them. There are two moments of situational comedy that are related to sex, and while I didn't laugh at them, I also didn't find them offensive in any way. Not to offend anyone but I think you'd have to be pretty narrow minded (and if you're a guy I pity your girlfriend) to not find those two situations relatable, even if the aftermath may have never actually happened to you. That's all I have to say about that, everyone has their own opinion I'm sure, and I have no intention of changing anyone's.
So the second half of my review is here to tell you that yes, they did just that. Beyond the upset stomach sound bites and the insalubrious visuals (have I ever mentioned I HATE cockroaches, and especially close-ups of them??), there is a very funny script by Akshat Verma that makes the trip to the theatre worth one's while. I wish I had managed to remember all the one-liners and all the creative cusses (right now I can only recall a certain pair of earrings threatening to be made out of someone's... well, just figure out what's round and comes in pairs on the male body), but that's fine, I plan to go back to the theatre to revisit them. There are no long monologues, there are no scenes of teary explanations, in fact I doubt any of the lines took longer than 2 rows to get written; this script is snappy, fast and to the point. It works because of that. No wait, not just because of that.
For a script as sharp as this one, you need actors with instinctive comedic timing, it's not something you can just edit. Thankfully, Imran Khan, Vir Das, Kunal Roy Kapoor, Vijay Raaz and Poorna Jagannathan have all got it. I knew Vijay Raaz was a hoot from his Monsoon Wedding days, and I had seen glimpses of Imran and Vir's natural talent for comedy in I Hate Love Stories and Badmaash Company respectively, but Poorna was a revelation for me. She seemed so comfortable in the comedy scenes (and not to mention that mad chemistry with Imran) that I almost cried when I read that she's an LA based actress because I really want her back to stay in Bollywood.
Actually, comfortable is the key word for the whole cast: everyone seemed to have been born in their role, from the over-eager parents, to the idiotic gangsters, to the mousy landlord, to the kathak teachers.
Aiming for that comfort is the greatest gamble a film like this takes: one contrived performance, one over the top reaction, one line out of place and you have ruined the mad pace of a whole sequence. But hard as I try, I can't remember that happening at any point. Ok, maybe the two old white people, but they're only in the movie for 5 seconds.
The other reason why I found this film so engaging and so hilarious is there's a lot happening visually. Half of what happens has no words attached and none are needed. Facial expressions (and thankfully all these actors are great with their faces even when hidden by heavy layers of fabric, bruises or hair), chain reactions, little ironies of life (the doll going back onto the shelf of heirlooms being one of my favourites), all priceless moments that add up to a sumptuous visual treat. Abhinay Deo has really outdone himself on the direction in this one.
The music by Ram Sampath, it should also be said, is well suited for the film, even if to my great disappointment the picturization of Nakkaddwaley Disco, Udhaarwaley Khisko was not featured anywhere, and even the song was only featured in sound bites.
Sure, I Hate You (Like I Love You), in brackets, made up for that loss in parts, but I am still a little bitter about it. Most of the songs didn't have a full-on picturization, but they wouldn't have fit with the story either, so that was a good decision. It's one of those movies.
Delhi Belly is not ground-breaking, though I understand that lip service must be paid in a world where news of Akshay Kumar filming in Antarctica for Houseful 2 is presented as "never before done in Indian cinema". If there is anything about Delhi Belly that truly has earned this quantifier it's the marketing campaign.
In terms of the topics approached in the film, I would not say that they are intrinsically ground-breaking, however, the ease with which the movie flows through them is something I have never seen before. It's not that we haven't seen swearwords in a movie before, and hardcore ones at that, but we hardly ever see them so seamlessly integrated in everyone's speech (take No One Killed Jessica as an example of how *not* to do it). It's not that we haven't seen erection bumps or talk about lesbians before in Indian films, but I'd be hard pressed to find a movie where it's been done so casually, with such a matter-of-fact attitude. When other films are still struggling with kissing, it is actually pretty impressive to see a movie that treats adult content maturely. It may sound like an oxymoron, because sex humour as well as toilet humour are both considered juvenile (even by me most of the times), but that's I suppose exactly where this movie exceeds all expectations, in making the statement that: it's not such a big deal!
I decided at the beginning of this review to not go all fangirly about Imran Khan and how this movie has only reinforced my adoration for him (and trust me it's really hard to stick to that resolution), so I will end with a note on the infamous item number by none other than Aamir Khan. If Shah Rukh has always wanted to do a superhero movie, we can safely say that this item number is one of those things that Aamir Khan has always secretly wanted to do. I can't even recall the last time I saw someone having so much ridiculous fun! I was tempted to cover my eyes a few times while watching "I Hate You (Like I Love You)" not because it was ridiculous (which of course it was), but because I almost felt like I was invading Aamir Khan's privacy. He was enjoying this number so much it really seemed like it should be illegal, or at the very least behind closed doors.
Of course it would be in really bad taste to end this with a cheese rating, as much as I miss doing those, so I'll skip that and just say: ignore the shit, throw all your expectations out the window, and just see the movie. You'll probably find it worth your while. I didn't think I would myself, but here I am writing a rave review about it. Go figure!
7 hours ago