Bullet-point Report: “Delhi Belly”

Posted on July 2, 2011

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  • John Matthew Mathan, Ashutosh Gowariker, Abhinay Deo – and the list of moviemakers who burn brightest under the aegis of Aamir Khan and merely flicker elsewhere continues to grow. The guy who made Game is capable of this? Who’da thunk!
  • After Dhobi Ghat and Delhi Belly, is it safe to say that the less-than-two-hour film with no interval and where people casually slip in and out of Hindi and English — with as little fuss as pulling off a kurta and putting on a T-shirt, the way we all do — has well and truly arrived?
  • The language here is so natural, it’s hard to sympathise with people still making Wake Up Sids in Hindi. The three roommates of Delhi Belly are from different parts of the country, so they speak to each other in English (as does R Balachander, whose name suggests he’s Tamilian). Their pal, the woman with the accent, speaks to them in English and to the hotel maid in Hindi. And the lower-in-the-social-ladder Jains speak in Hindi, though they educate their children in English and know enough English themselves to point out that a construction is wrong because it’s missing an article. The crooks, naturally, speak almost entirely in Hindi. The film, as a result, feels like life around us. We never get the feeling that lines have been thought out in English and rendered in Hindi for “mass acceptance.”
  • The quality of filmmaking in these Hindi-indie productions is simply extraordinary – the editing, the background score, the low-key aesthetics, and especially the photography. Earlier, the light in Hindi films used to be harsh, leaving the frames overlit, the colours too-bright. Or else there would be a slick saturation of colours, as if the frames had been sprayed with a light layer of grease. Here everything is just so, exquisitely invisible.
  • I wish people would stop being shocked or titillated every time someone swears on screen in a film clearly targeted at adults. (Yes, thevidiya means whore in Tamil.) This is how a lot of the world talks, and this cannot be the USP of a feature film. Making a fuss about this, designating this as the reason for the coming of age of cinema, is but a storm in a pee cup.
  • Yes, this is an obsessively (and adorably) scatological film which finds ever-delightful ways to showcase its obsession. One character is constantly taking a shit, and the man he buys the unhygienic chicken from is constantly scratching his privates. A gangster is threatened with a firecracker up his butt. A landlord reads blackmail letters while seated on a commode. A cop gets shot in the butt. A character is revealed to us butt first, the faintest line of cleavage peeping out of his boxers. Plus there are icky fluids galore – loose motion, green chutney, bird shit from the sky. And there are loud noises galore – farts, bullets, a roof that explodes. Heck, even nature turns scatological when it begins to rain on poor Vir Das. The sky, you could say, is taking a leak.
  • The sound guys who devised the variety of fart noises – take a bow!
  • And speaking of scatology, let’s take a minute to recall the magnificent Pushpak, possibly the first Indian film to make such a big deal about a piece of shit.
  • This film really surprised me because I expected something more arty, more “meaningful,” possibly a ruder version of Dhobi Ghat, deep and dense and delicately textured. But this is a refreshingly simple story whose pleasures are entirely on the surface. What you see is pretty much what you get – unless, keeping with the spirit of the film, you want get all anal and say that the knocking down of the rear-view mirror symbolises the fact that, um, there’s no looking back. That sort of thing.
  • I was intrigued by the frequent framing of scenes with tangled overhead cables in sight. It’s a recurring visual motif, as if reminding us that this is a tale of constantly crossed connections.
  • This is a truly wonderful screenplay, attentive to each and every character – even the minor ones, especially the minor ones – and with each scene remarkably smooth in pushing the story forward. Every succeeding development clicks satisfyingly into place.
  • And then there’s the attention to detail, the crossing of the t’s and the dotting of the i’s. We’re primed for everything that happens so that nothing, on reflection, catches us unawares, the way things do in some films and we scratch our heads and think, “Now where did that come from?” If the landlord unspools a roll of film, we’re shown earlier that the photographer prefers film over digital. If the girl ends up in a liplock with a “woman” in a burqa, we’re given the gossip, earlier, about her being a lesbian. The banana that so irks Vir Das is split open elsewhere by Shenaz Treasurywala (on a plate, using silverware). The fan that will eventually break loose is shown whirring in the opening credits, with deep cracks on the ceiling radiating away from its centre. How does Imran Khan get the idea for that escapade with burqas? Here’s a throwaway shot of the trio being accosted, earlier, by women in burqas as they step into their red car, a car so bad it looks like something that would result “if a donkey fucked a rickshaw.”
  • Even the item song at the end – brilliantly choreographed – has its roots in an early interview that spells out the name of the song: I hate you like I love you in brackets. (I’m going to be laughing about this song for long, and this is easily Aamir Khan’s funniest hour in a long, long time. That chest hair? That heart-shaped belt buckle? Genius! Imran was being merely sarcastic when he said, first, that he’s not going to be able to get this song out of his head, but I’m serious – this song is so silly, so addictive, it’s going to be a while before I get it out of my head.)
  • Speaking of genius-level song picturisations, there’s also Vir Das’s revenge fantasy. The sequence begins like a tired spoof of a 1970s wedding scene and then segues into reaction-shot cuts from a 1990s saas-bahu soap and keeps building and building into a song sequence where sitars are held like guitars and emit sparks. Whew! Farah Khan, please take a break from making movies and give us more such deliciously deranged choreography please.
  • An entirely different level of genius is to be found on Vijay Raaz’s face as he inspects the contents of the wrong package. There are many ways to play this scene – outrage, bewilderment, garden-variety anger, disgust – but Raaz’s deadpan, the look of a philosopher contemplating an existential conundrum, trumps everything, suggesting a man not easily fazed, even in the shittiest of situations.
  • The RD Burman hat-doffs in a certain kind of Hindi film have become as mandatory as the Ilayaraja nods in a certain kind of Tamil film. If there’s a reason for the Hum Kisise Kum Nahin clip and the Duniya mein logon ko sound snatch, other than just look-how-cool-we-are-because-we’re-referencing-RD, I haven’t figured it out.
  • In the Not Quite Nobel Level But Still Not To Be Scoffed At category, a minor round of applause to Imran Khan, who becomes not only the first Hindi-film hero to go down on his girlfriend but also the first to be embarrassed by an inconvenient erection.
  • There are so many great laughs, it’s hard to single one out. But I’d go with the unexpected loo stop at an unfamiliar house as the family inside is settling down for tea. I nearly died. A close second is the visual gag of Vir Das being strangulated by his tie even while escaping on the scooter. And third place goes to Vir Das sipping water through a burqa.
  • Among the few niggles I had, the few times the film didn’t quite find its footing, were the meet-the-girlfriend’s-parents scene and the adman asking Vir Das to reduce the happiness of the banana by seven percent. Luckily, there’s always a great line round the corner that yanks you back into the thick of things, like the digestively challenged roommate asking Vir Das, “They shaved your head before hanging you?” (I didn’t catch the subsequent Mill on the Floss reference though. Anyone? And I’m not sure I got the “benevolent God” and “hand of God” references either.)
  • Someone get me a “cha se chainees noodle” T-shirt.

Copyright ©2011 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.