It seems as though the hallmark of American comedies for adults in recent years has been to include as many graphic bodily function gags as possible. It’s why I don’t generally see comedies in the theater: I’m likely to walk out when things get too disgusting.
Delhi Belly, India’s first mainstream foray into Western-style gross-out comedy, comes as a relief because the filmmakers realize that a little goes a long way. By emphasizing quality over volume when it comes to scatological humor, Delhi Belly showcases the genre at its best.
Freelance reporter Tashi (Imran Khan) lives in a filthy apartment with his two pals, photographer Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur) and cartoonist Arup (Vir Das). Tashi’s gorgeous but ditzy girlfriend, Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala), takes a package from a suspicious Russian man in the airport where she works as a flight attendant. Without realizing that the package is full of contraband, Sonia asks Tashi to deliver the package for her so that she can run errands.
Tashi hands the package off to Nitin, who promptly contracts a case of “Delhi belly” (diarrhea) from some unsanitary street food. Nitin asks Arup to deliver the package on his way to the doctor, who’s requested a stool sample from the ailing Nitin. You can guess what happens when Arup makes his deliveries.
Delhi Belly is not a typical Indian film, and not just because of its genre. The dialog is primarily in English, and the plot structure is also more like a Hollywood film. Bucking the standard formula for a two-hour-plus masala picture — split the story into two halves, separated by an intermission — Delhi Belly‘s plot has three acts that run continuously for 100 minutes, sans intermission.
What results from these breaks with Indian cinematic tradition? A damned funny movie. The writing is hilarious, and the dialog generates as many laughs as the physical gags and fart jokes do. Fair warning: even by much looser American ratings standards, this would be an R-rated film. Copious use of the f-word, violence, reference to sex acts and scatological humor make this adults-only fare.
Director Abhinay Deo — who failed to impress with his debut earlier this year, Game — shows a real flair for comedy. The story is well-paced, and Deo uses the camera deftly to exaggerate the ridiculous situations Tashi and his pals find themselves in. The movie’s two musical numbers are hysterical and fit seamlessly into the production.
There’s also an emphasis placed on the relationships between the main characters. The friendship between Tashi, Nitin and Arup never wavers. When Tashi and Nitin meet a hip, cynical fellow journalist named Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), it’s clear that she fits in with the goofy trio much better than Sonia does. This is a group of misfits we want to see succeed, and great performances by the cast only enhance that desire.
If I had to sum Delhi Belly up in one word, it would be “satisfying.” It has everything I want in a comedy. As long as you can stomach the cuss-words and gross-out gags, this is about as good as it gets.