Delhi Belly (Abhinay Deo, 2011)
Delhi Belly centres around flatmates Tashi (Imran Khan), Arup (Vir Das) and Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur) who live in slothful squalor in Delhi. Tashi's rich air-hostess fiancee Soniya (Shehnaz Treasurywala) asks him to run an errand for her – all he needs to do is deliver a package – but Tashi delegates the task to his flatmates.
At the same time as Tashi is supposed to deliver Soniya's package, his flatmate Nitin comes down with a terrible case of “Delhi Belly” - requiring a stool sample to be sent off to the doctor. And you guessed it: the packages get mixed up. WOMP WOMP.
So the package (which turns out to be smuggled diamonds) falls into the wrong hands, and the smugglers end up with a container of shit, and UNDERSTANDABLY PISSED, go after the boys in search of their goods.
You'll basically know from seeing the “First Look” trailer for Delhi Belly whether it's your kind of film or not:
I saw the trailer when it came out and scratched the film off my To See list. I'm really not the biggest fan of toilet humour – I can deal with it in small doses but I wouldn't normally choose to watch something I know to be...purposely vulgar, not because I find it offensive but because I think it's gross. To base an entire film around a guy's diarrhea? No, thank you. Delhi Belly didn't look like a film I would enjoy – I don't tend to laugh or remotely enjoy looking at people shitting, farting, burping, or vomiting. So the fact that there's a scene where the gangsters tip the container of shit out on the table, expecting diamonds? That kind of thing ACTUALLY makes me feel sick.
But then the music was released, and along with it, hilarious, seemingly satirical videos that suggested the tone of the film was less vulgar gutter humour and maybe a little more my speed:
Disco Fighter, along with glowingly positive reviews from basically everyone in the world, plus critical buzz that it's “groundbreaking” and “cutting edge” cinema, as well as my enduring, unconditional love for Imran Khan convinced me to go against my gut instinct.
I FUCKING HATED THIS FILM.
I HATED EVERY GODDAMN SECOND OF IT. I SHOULD HAVE GONE WITH MY GUT AND LISTENED TO THE TINY INNER VOICE THAT TOLD ME FROM THE START “WTF ARE YOU DOING?! YOU WILL HATE THIS! IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR IDEA OF TORTURE!”
As I have already said - not a fan of toilet humour. I own that and expected some degree of vulgarity going in. There are only a couple of actual hardcore gross out moments, but there is a definite focus on the scatological: bums, toilets, farts, poo. One of the problems I have is that Delhi Belly is being held up as this groundbreaking film because it 'dares to go where no other Indian film has gone' in terms of content – but that groundbreaking content is what? That X number of characters are shown on the toilet? That variations of the word “fuck” are said (in English, mind you – to swear too much in Hindi would still be too risque?) a record number of times? That characters talk about oral sex, and simulate sex? That's not content – that's just being 'edgy' for the sake of being edgy. Take all of that away from Delhi Belly and you have a tired crime caper story that has been done to death, nothing memorable or unique or special about it at all.
I can't count the number of times I have been asked about Indian cinema being “pure” by people who don't watch Hindi films: they always want to know if it's true that there's no swearing, no sex, no drugs, no kissing. Even before Delhi Belly I could answer confidently “No, that's not true” and offer several good films as examples; today I would not offer Delhi Belly as one, because of the LACK of substance.
I understand that people like this film because it captures the way the youth today speak and act. I get that: it's thrilling to see ourselves reflected on the screen, thrilling to hear things being said that no-one ever says in a Hindi film. Rishi would never have spoken so openly about going down on a girl! But that's not enough for me: give me a film that captures the zeitgeist but tells a relevant story too. Give me fleshed out characters I can care about, instead of swiftly sketched outlines in a paint by numbers plot. Films like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara are sometimes criticised for taking place in an unrealistic, unattainable filmi reality where everyone is rich and perfect – but at least those films have a universal emotional core that anyone can identify with. This is my main problem with Delhi Belly, I think: it left me feeling nothing. I was bored – I didn't care about the story, I didn't care about the characters, and in the end, I was pissed off, because the massive marketing campaign that promised I would be shocked and offended and wowed by this groundbreaking cinematic spectacle was a crock of shit. If anything, in the end, I was just mildly nauseated.