The movie connoisseur that I am (who isn’t?), unable to digest a regular dose of insipid, uninspired, and unoriginal movies the past couple of decades, I’ve steadily gravitated towards the Independent film industry for my movie fix. A few months ago, I bought a Google TV set-top box and hooked it up to my Idiot Box. In my ongoing quest to reach the end of the Internet, which I am very close to achieving, I couldn’t afford to waste anytime without constant browsing even while watching TV.
Now I am able to combine the Internet browsing experience with TV watching experience into one messy but strangely addictive media browsing experience. It is not perfect, but hey Logitech, why would you invest in a solid product like Revue and then walk away from it at the wrong time? Makes no sense. Anyway, one of the apps on Google TV (yup.. its apps gone wild.. even on TV) is Netflix. In spite of the built-up disillusionment towards Hollywood, Bollywood and every other movie industry that thinks it is cool to call itself something or the other plus ‘ollywood’, I finally caved in and got that Netflix subscription I was trying not to get lured into. After punching in my preferences and rating some movies, they came up with a few they thought matched my interests and one of them was Delhi Belly. I wasn’t immediately drawn to it, but I remembered a friend had recommended it and it had a look of an Indie flick and so I decided to give it a try against my better instincts.
I have to admit that I am fairly out of touch with the movie scene in Mumbai, and I didn’t know any of the actors in this movie, which is another reason I thought I could give it a shot. Lord knows I would have unsubscribed Netflix in a New York second if they showed anything involving Sharukh Khan to match my interests. I didn’t know it was from Aamir Khan Productions instead, until after I started watching it. The movie, made in English aiming for an overseas crossover appeal, is about a Delhi-based yuppie threesome, Tashi and his two roommates, and their unwitting encounters and wild escapades against a group of gangsters whose smuggled maal ends up in our protagonists’ hands unintentionally. While there’s nothing novel about the premise, the film makers were going for a cool and contemporary presentation that fits all audience alike – desi and phoren.
As topsy-turvy comedies go, this is not a bad movie, but I couldn’t get over a couple of things. For me, it still feels odd to watch a Desi movie made in English regardless of the quality of the screenplay (more about that later). This is mainly because of a lack of native authenticity that goes with it. I have nothing against English. I am writing in it. Nothing against an honest effort to make Indian movie in English either, and to be fair, it is not a stretch to assume that desi yuppies of Facebook generation speak more in English than in their native language, and I could get over the fact that Tashi and his sidekicks only talk in English. It was more difficult for me to ignore the oddity of the smuggling ring leader and his cartoonish cronies, clearly looking like the goondas hanging around in your neighborhood gullies, talk in English. Every now and then, the gang leader would break into Hindi when he apparently gets angry and feels like unfurling a few choice profanities to show how tough he is. Just weird.
On the positive side, the photography was decent, Kunaal Roy Kapur, playing the role of Nitin, as one of Tashi’s roommates, stood out with his acting, and the screenplay was intelligent and well written, if you can tune out the liberal dose of “fucks” and “bastards” and “sister fuckers” in every other conversation. The coarseness of the obscenities was very intentional and carefully planned, again trying to “shock” the desi audience with a sense of “you haven’t heard anything like this before.” Generally, the movie is not boring and has its moments, but the whole thing feels a bit forced.
The main problem I had with the movie was not its vulgarity. I am already desensitized beyond repair on that front, thanks to Hollywood and America in general, but the issue I had was this constant pretension throughout, that they are creating something original, with an attitude of here we are, cool new-age hipsters, we’ll mock at your status quo and thumb our noses at your boring and uncool societal decorum and etiquette. Fine, that’s a brave front to put on if you can back it up with some substance, but underneath their pretentious exterior is matter that is razor-thin superficial, creating a bits and pieces mixtape of popular off-beat American and English flicks from the past 15 years. A strong base of “Lock stock and two smoking barrels“, a pinch of “Oceans Eleven“, a touch of “Get Shorty“, a dash of “Tropic Thunder” with Aamir Khan dancing as “Disco Fighter” a. la. Tom Cruise dancing as “Les Grossman” during credit roll, a forced infusion of poop jokes from your average juvenile flick with a strong pretension of anarchism with only passing references to the so called taboo items, as if to say, “look, we are hip and progressive”, and yet not showing any courage at all to really push the envelope at any point, and all along mitigating it into a warm and fuzzy chaotic comedy along the lines of a Priyadarshan flick. That is Delhi Belly in a nutshell for you. At least Priyadarshan flicks like “Hera Pheri” and “Bagham Bagh” are not pretentious about what they are, and I would easily rate them above this one. I don’t pretend to know the desi Independent film scene. Trying to recall, in recent years, I’ve seen “Dev D“, “Gulaal“, “Udaan“, “Ek Chalis ki Last Local”, and I was more impressed with those movies than this one, even if they don’t provide that “cross-over” appeal that Aamir Khan seems to crave so much.
Speaking of Aamir Khan, the most risk he ever took as an actor was in his role as Dil Nawaaz in Deepa Mehta’s 1947 Earth. Clearly, he was interested in expanding his horizons beyond your boy-meets-girl-dances-in-public-parks-beats-up-bad-guys roles unlike his contemporary movie stars, but his greatest strength is his ability to package mainstream material with an off-beat wrapper, and fooling those audience tired of your average masala cinema into believing that they watched something that is different. And with all that promise and potential, he seems to lack the courage to take the full leap into the artistic realm. Even in “Tare Zameen Par“, born out of a genuine artistic intention, and perhaps his best work so far, in my opinion, he couldn’t completely shed the angst of commercial appeal. 15 minutes into Delhi Belly, it was obvious this serving was nothing more than your commercial Hindi cinema carefully rearranged to look like an Indie delicacy. But over 90% rating in Rotten Tomatoes, over 7.5 rating in IMDB proves that he knows what sells. But so does Sharukh Khan and the scores of bullshit movies he and others make in Bollywood that set the Indian movie industry behind by decades. And for some reason I expect more from Aamir Khan, when in many ways he is no different, he just pretends to be different. And similarly, Delhi Belly doesn’t really appeal to my Indie predilection, it just pretends to do so.
It might appear like I set out to trash Aamir Khan here, but that was not my intention when I started typing this, and its not like he is getting to spend my money on his projects. But I am not in the film industry and I am just your average movie fan that likes to value movies as genuine art forms, and in the homogenized world of formulaic mainstream cinema, I do look to the Indie world for the rebellion, and to quote a wise young punk called Stevo from a quintessential Indie gem called SLC Punk, “Posers were people who looked like punks but they did it for fashion.” Searching for one word that best describes Delhi Belly, that’s what comes to mind – a Poser.