As we continue to look for new ways to tell stories, we must first understand the way society thinks, acts, and feels. India’s newest generation has been globalized unlike any other in the history of the nation. These kids have an ample supply of food, fashion and film from all over the world right at their disposal. For these reasons, it is no wonder that Indian Cinema in general has now caught onto a slew of words, actions and ideologies which define the young generation in India that is so loud, outspoken and boisterous. With the release of Dil Chahta Hai in 2001, director Farhan Akthar sucked in intriguing storytelling techniques and chic new flavor of American cinema of the late 90’s and injected it into the Bollywood scene. The effects were no small matter. Akthar’s film created no less than a tidal wave of fresh material for several hundred other filmmakers there after to cut copy and paste a story of three friends whose lives are changed by a certain circumstance. Now, appropriately, 10 years later, we once again celebrate the recycling of this story, but in this case injected a new wave of material inspired by the recent trend of gross out adult-comedies.
Abhinay Deo’s Delhi Belly has all the shades of Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, and will most likely be looked back upon as a turning point in Indian comedic cinema. The film poses various funny attitudes, situations and controversies previously reserved for the American audiences who have always had a guilty love for gross out humor, graphic violence and lots of sex. Deo’s film still, comparably is a reserved affair, but it is no less fun. What struck me in particular about this film is it’s very keen awareness of India’s core conservative family values and Deo’s ability to keep it simply as objective awareness rather than shove it in our faces as a wrong or outdated viewpoint. When Arup confronts his dream-girl in a wedding scene parodying that of the melodramatic Indian TV serials, he exclaims the bride has previously given him a ‘blowjob’. The idea of everything that Indian society has known to be allowed or accepted in the media for decades now clashing with a taboo subject that is the creation of modern globalization and a youth class eager to explore outside the borders their parents built for them.
While Delhi Belly brings to light an important change in Indian society through its amusing plotline, the film still manages to fall short in a key factor. That factor is balance. For all that Deo’s film dares to do, say and preach, it never really manages to connect on a very personal level. Majority of the film is stuck in it’s own newly found freedom to express it’s angst through cursing, sex and gross-out humor and never cares enough to bring to light the reasons behind nor the implications of it’s own actions. We get that the movie is churning the wheel of change in a cinema bounded for so long by standards of what is acceptable on screen and what is not, but what good does it do to be daring without a purpose. Delhi Belly is more reckless than anything else, and while we can sit back an analyze what Deo could have tried to say with this film, we are only stuck wondering exactly what was said in the first place. There is no emotional and personal balance that keeps us grounded in the reality of it’s situations. The love scenes between Tashi and his two female friends brisk by quickly without an inch of space to breath and delve into the characters real feelings. Is this guy capable of loving anybody? Is he only looking for quick flings? Many of the scenes meant to express emotions are awkwardly plotted and bring about more confused looks than looks of awe.
What is most apparent now in the cinema that India is creating as of late is that while the cinema is moving away from the large scale masala entertainment of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Hum Dil De Chhuke Sanam, it is becoming more constrained in it’s approach to storytelling. We don’t have outlandish song and dance sequences or sappy melodrama which is engineered to extract tears through vacuum suction, but we don’t have any of the wonder and emotional weight-age of those films either. If Delhi Belly is supposed to be edgy, it needs to balance it’s conviction with something compelling the way Phillips managed to do in The Hangover (especially with Ed Helms’ character). If a film is hammering you down with a rebellious attitude for 2 hours without a break, it doesn’t make it exciting, it instead, becomes annoying and predictable.
While we are getting some very fresh, unapologetic thrill from Deo’s Delhi Belly, the film is recklessly diving head first into an approach to storytelling that has no backing or purpose but to be edgy and modern. Like most other films in India, it lives with ultimatums. This one in particular is that if a film is modern it cannot preserve an ounce of the qualities of India’s old cinema. Sometimes, treading the line is what we need. Balance is what we deserve.