I would have liked Delhi Belly — the movie. I really would have. If I was 13 years old. Because then a fat man going to the potty, finding no water and then washing his butt with juice would have been insanely hilarious. I would have sniggered at the oral sex references, guffawed at the stream of “close-relative-fornicator” abuses and elbowed my friend in the ribs when the camera actually shows the brown stuff.
Unfortunately, I am now 35. Which perhaps explains why, when the end credits rolled with Aamir Khan trying to do a ‘80s disco spoof (he need not have tried, footage of him dancing to ‘jeena hai pyar mein meena’ from Love Love Love would have sufficed), I was left scratching my head — Did I just see the same Delhi Belly that everyone is wah-wah-ing?
No, wait. I was not actually scratching my head. I was truly afraid. While it is now considered “very cool” to trash the big-studio-backed teenage John Tucker Must Die and College Musical-knockoffs, one must be prepared for a blowback of epic proportions if you do not find anything marketed as ‘indie/alternate’ as totally awesome. It’s what I call the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome; if you cannot see the clothes, it’s you who is not worthy.
So at the risk of severe sanction, let me say this. No, I did not find putting a “b****c***” every few words and the generally endless stream of unimaginative profanities (save the one about the car) to be a sign of Hindi cinema’s newfound boldness and maturity. I cringed every time we were asked to believe that Imran Khan, who looks like he spent half his life in a beauty parlor, is actually a down-on-his-luck, unwashed and filthy bachelor who lives in a dingy apartment with his slacker friends. I find nothing progressive and gritty in actually showing people toiling over a toilet bowl.
There was nothing remotely “Guy Ritchiesque” (by the way, what’s this fascination with trying to attach labels of famous phoren directors to desi movies) in a “parcels got mixed” story that was as formulaic and cliched as…well much of everything that Bollywood does. If I want a fix of lowbrow humour, I will go back to my old VCDs of David Dhawan flicks where Govinda, Shakti Kapoor, Kader Khan and the rest would be riotously juvenile and racy. But they could be crass with class, using a double entendre, a raised eyebrow, an unfinished sentence and a suggestive leer in a way much more effective than the brutal, leave nothing-to the-imagination directness of a Delhi Belly.
Which makes me think: If Delhi Belly was made keeping the script intact, but only with Govinda, Shakti Kapoor and Asrani as the main protagonists, with Kumar Sanu singing the songs, would it be considered as “hep” and as “visionary”? Or would it meet the fate of a Naughty at 40? I’d guess the latter. Because if there is one thing that Delhi Belly (and other films like it) do extremely well nowadays — it is the marketing.
When I use the word marketing, I do not just mean the old “Go to the theaters and watch my thoda sa hatke movie”. That is old hat.
I am thinking more on the lines of “branding” as is taught in B-schools. Delhi Belly has been branded so well, much of it done through social media, that a significant portion of the audience already associates “coolness”, “attitude”, and “edgy” with it even before they’ve walked into the darkened hall. Anyone who does not, even after he has seen the movie is, well, a square. Which is why I like Delhi Belly — the product. I really do.
Arnab Ray is the author of the best-selling May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss from Harper Collins India. He blogs at http://greatbong.net