By now, there’s a lot to be said of the formal feedback that accompanies an Aamir Khan Productions (AKP) release. We’ve gone from a unanimous panning of Lagaan the weekend of its release 10 years ago, to oodles of praise and an almost default opinion of ‘best-in-class cinema’. If you’ve followed this blog, you know I am of the opinion that it’s well-deserved and a product of diligence and conviction on the part of the producer and his crew. What’s defined the brand and made it synonymous with quality has been an unwavering commitment to test the filmic waters, and to try to have fun while at it, or at least convince audiences that they’re having fun while at it.
In light of this background, my one-sentence review of Delhi Belly is this: It’s a well-written, good entertainer that’s marketed right and has its moments, but is not near of the path-breaking kind it is seemingly being hailed to be.
I certainly do not intend to say this as a slight to the film. I do intend it as a slight to those film critics who are either so blinded by group think that they either forget the Hindi films they have seen in the recent past (assuming they’re keeping up better than we are), or must cater to a brand and not a brand’s audience, forgetting that films are to manipulate us, the audience, and not as much to manipulate the ‘independent’ film critic. It’s this conscious effort to stay objective that’s led some to appreciate Aamir Khan’s films over the years. And it’s this very effort that demands we call a smiling banana, a...well...smiling banana. :)
Now, let’s treat Delhi Belly within the scope of a comedy that’s rated R for language. It fits the bill well. Three young, fabulous, and broke professionals -- Imran Khan, Kunaal R. Kapur, and Vir Das -- who are roommates in an apartment building whose collapse is imminent, find their way into a smuggler web (led by Vijay Raaz) because of diamonds they unknowingly serve as couriers for. The film is about their quest to stomach the position they’re in and escape from this web while toying with holding on to their greed.
Along the way are several hurdles, as we would expect, and most of them have a comic ring to them. They’re underplayed and require constrained performances, and the three actors and lead villain (especially) do really well with theirs. Imran Khan’s maturity as an actor is obvious. Good for him! Vir Das might just want to seek Farhan Akhtar as acting coach – he’s a half clone in delivery and posture. Vijay Raaz delivers what might just be one of the more memorable performances by a villain, of late. The ladies, Poorna Jagannathan and Shenaz Treasurywala, fit in well, the former making the most of a more significant role.
The screenplay, cinematography, and art direction work well in concert. Expect nothing less from the brand. The music fits in well. The controversial song (and I’d rather stay away from why it’s controversial) has an extremely catchy tune that is an anthem of sorts among Indian youth by now (for better or for worse). Enjoy. (Rated R for you Hindi/Urdu speakers):
Loved the sound accompanying the opening credit sequence, with a K. L. Saigal remix that is not pathetic. Aamir Khan shows up in an item song (yes, he’s an ‘item boy’ now) which is a tribute to 1980s rock-n-roll Bollywood. Here’s a trailer with the funky Aamir:
Unfortunately, a lot of what's good in Delhi Belly is somewhat offset by the amount of ‘toilet’ humor. If comedy outside the restroom is driven by subtlety, it’s the explicitness of incorporating traveler's diarrhea (yes, condition's called 'Delhi Belly' apparently) into the film that could lead one to believe that class, not what’s crass, is the bigger concern here. If you don’t have an appetite for that kind of humor, stay away. Of course, if you don’t have an appetite for the kind of language that #U*Q$ up the living daylights out of some purists, stay away.
If you’re okay with the aforementioned disclaimers, check this out. It’s different in how it achieves what it achieves, but no matter what is said about it, it’s the familiar elements we appreciate in quality cinema – plot, writing, timing -- that make it what it is, despite how hard it tries to differentiate because of a perceived boldness that’s supposed to spark a new trend in Hindi film of more boldness for the sake of boldness. (Refer to this discussion on what's bold and what's not.)
Check the tide when it comes to the amount of profanity that’s used, Bollywood. This is one trend you’re better off not flowing with, like the water supply in the apartment building whose collapse was imminent.
Shit happens, alright. It's why we need to move beyond (sh)it.
Film Rating: 3.5/5 -- Good, “time-pass” entertainer
Music Rating: 3.5/5
Catchy tunes, great integration, excellent background score
My Classification: R
For language, sex, toilet humor
99 (2009) is a film I’ve been meaning to recommend for a while. A lot of the good I say about Delhi Belly applies here. While it’s slower than Delhi Belly, it’s as intelligent and engaging (if not more), and per my reaction while watching it, way more hilarious and with better (and more), good performances. It also has a character named D.K., for what it’s worth.
Two friends -- Kunal Khemu and Cyrus Broacha -- run an illegal SIM-card duplicating business. As they're about to get busted, they rob a car, meet with an accident in it, and must reimburse a bookie (Mahesh Manjrekar) for damages. We go from Mumbai to Delhi, from an attempted escape to betting, and trust veterans Boman Irani and Vinod Khanna to steal the show from the other dependable actors through it. Simone Singh and Soha Ali Khan pitch in with good performances. Amit Mistry is the big find here. There are several scenes where he makes an excellent case for his casting in future comedies. Here’s my favorite (rated R for language; no subtitles here):
Several unforced and circumstantial moments of genuine comedy, often products of the kind of sarcasm that works because of its timing, make this entertaining, hilarious, and memorable. It’s also a more encouraging sample from contemporary, stylish Bollywood comedy that works as much for its restrained performances as it does for its writing. It’s as dialogue-driven as any other, with delivery that is, in most cases, just brilliant. Very well done, and a tide we need to see more flow with!
Movie Rating: 4/5 – Excellent!
My Classification: R for language.