Delhi Belly

Abhinay Deo loads up Delhi Belly with self-conscious references and imagery of Bollywood and “India”. The opening sequence includes Rishi Kapoor prancing in a blinding white suit from the medley from Hum Kisise Kum Nahin intercut with a slick airport and some slum kids. I wanted to like this. I like the caper genre, I like Guy Ritchie films (of which this is heavily derivative), and I even quite like Imran Khan. But it feels a bit empty, like a film set in India and made for people who have never been there themselves.

Note: I watched the Hinglish version of the film which is heavy on the profanity, with some characters swearing as much as I do. I believe the Hindi version is not quite as graphic.

Tashi (Imran Khan) is a journalist of sorts, interviewing starlets he despises when he isn’t writing up serious crimes. Tashi’s flight attendant girlfriend Sonia (Shehnaz Treasurywala) does a dodgy deal with Vladimir to drop off a package to a local address. Of course the package contains smuggled diamonds. Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur) is a perve, and a photographer, as well as Tashi’s sidekick and roommate. The other flatmate is Arup (Vir Das in a terrible wig), the geeky graphic artist charged with making a banana look happier but not too happy. Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan) is a journalist colleague who is there because someone has to have a crazy ex-husband who wants to hunt Tashi down. Tashi tells Nitin to drop off the package to Somayajulu (Vijay Raaz) but Nitin comes down with Delhi Belly, and sends Arup to drop off the package AND his stool sample. Yeah, you can pretty much guess the rest.

The film is stylised, with quirky sound and visual effects emphasising the comedy and dramatic beats. It’s meticulously planned, with all the intersecting plotlines and near misses neatly plotted. And that is one of the problems I have with Delhi Belly. While it is visually accomplished and great to look at, there is not enough fizz or life in the story or the characters.

There is an overabundance of trashy puerile boy humour that might put some people off, but at least it is frank about sex and avoids unnecessary coyness. And as you would expect from the title, there is scatological and toilet humour galore, and that is carried over to Raj Sampath’s soundtrack. The bad language and smutty jokes are largely for shock value and not driven by a genuine insight or moment. That is what I found distasteful and even worse, boring. Making a man run down the street while wearing a burqa is not champagne comedy. One rare comedy highlight is Arup fantasising about breaking up a wedding in his Disco Fighter avatar (and announcing his equal opportunity approach to oral sex) before bursting into song. It’s a little bit Mithun and a little bit Wedding Singer post the break up.

Imran Khan is stuck with a character who doesn’t seem to have much motivation but ends up in an ever more threatening and strange set of circumstances. His nice middle class boy aura never really leaves him, no matter how squalid the surroundings, and I never quite believed in Tashi. I did like his Rajinikanth shirt though. Tashi is apparently acceptable husband material to a wealthy middle class family but he chooses to live in a hovel and not really have much of a career. How does that work?

Imran has no chemistry at all with Shenaz or Poorna which is disappointing considering Tashi gets very hands on with them. Imran and Kunaal Roy Kapur are much more fun together. But despite Kapur’s rambunctious performance and occasional zingers I got so tired of Nitin and his digestive tract that I wanted his scenes to be over NOW. And Vir Das was sort of reprising his role in Go Goa Gone so I felt he was a bit underutilised. And his wig was truly terrible and a great distraction.

Shenaz Treasurywala delivers an entertaining performance in a role that didn’t demand one. Sonia is a confident upper middle class girl. She can afford to be nice to almost everyone because other than choosing a lipgloss she doesn’t have much to tax her brain with. Poorna Jagannathan plays Menaka as more of a world weary cynic, but again she will go out of her way to help a hopeless boy. As mentioned, I couldn’t see the appeal of Tashi to either lady and given they formed a mild love triangle it would have been better if there was more chemistry.

Leading the villains, Vijay Raaz and the gang of henchmen do their best to be OTT. I appreciated their commitment, and some scenes had real tension. But the film couldn’t commit to playing it straight so there were forays into unnecessary slapstick that fell flat. Often literally. A dishonourable mention goes to Rahul Singh as Menaka’s ex. His character was so unpleasant it was hard to believe such a smart confident girl would have married him against her family’s wishes, and his acting was completely suited to the role.

I have to mention Aamir Khan’s appearance as Disco Fighter in the closing song. Aamir is one of the film’s producers and according to the goss, attended some special advance previews to find out why audiences weren’t responding to the film. But his disco antics are there for added box office appeal, not for the film and not for fun. And not because the world needs any more actors in blackface. Jeez. Anyway, it’s not like he needs any more proof he is a terrible dancer so I guess he really likes his nephew.

It’s a clever but ultimately joyless effort. The film lacks the verve of proper masala embodied by Rishi’s performance in the opening visuals. Great masala films crackle with the energy and velocity of dodgem cars and roller coasters, not the methodical progression of chess. 2 ½ stars!

Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

I must confess upfront. My friend Jess appears as an extra and dancer in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, and without that motivation I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it. But I am so glad I succumbed to the friendly emotional blackmail! It’s a well constructed piece nicely executed by first time director Shakun Batra and writer Ayesha DeVitre. Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor were appealing and relatable, and demonstrated their comic flair. The standard masala trappings of big songs, blingy costumes and unnecessary subplots are for the most part missing, but instead I was treated to some good character development and writing with a slightly unconventional and very pleasing end.

Jess told me that she did ‘something’ in the opening scene but wouldn’t say what. If you’ve seen the film, the young lady giving birth is Jess. That was definitely unexpected. My friends (one of whom is very pregnant) and I cheered along as Jess grimaced and puuuuuushed!

Rahul Kapoor (Imran Khan) is introduced in a neat montage with a voiceover describing his childhood. With a distant demanding father (Boman Irani) and a vain socialite mother (Ratna Pathak Shah), Rahul learned to do what was expected and to navigate his parents ambitions. He grows into a nervous young man who never voices his opinions let alone acts on them. Drifting into a career as an architect, he moved to Las Vegas. Sadly his lack of passion for the career translated into lack of success and he was sacked. His instinct is to hide the truth from his parents and try to cope alone but he lacks the self belief to get going again. His dad’s friend, and indeed everyone else when asked, seems to think the cure for his malaise is sex and lots of it. Rahul is uptight, prissy and unlikely to heed this helpful prescription. He would think wearing un-ironed socks was totally wild behaviour.

Riana Braganza (Kareena Kapoor) is messy, extroverted, and affectionate. She rockets through life dealing head on with whatever setbacks she encounters and changing course as she deems fit. She has recently broken up with a boyfriend and it seems to have also made her break up with their friends who she accused of spying on her. She is looking to start again and get her life and career as a hairstylist back on track. Her parents are supporting Riana financially and emotionally after her break up. They talk openly about her relationships and dreams and she seeks their advice without feeling obliged to follow it.

Of course these opposites meet, and predictably enough Riana turns Rahul’s life upside down. There are several contrived plot set ups to bring the pair together and to keep them in contact, including a drunken Vegas quickie wedding. I have a sneaking fondness for the Elvis wedding celebrant idea. One of my friends got married there as he and his wife are atheists but they both believe in Elvis. Even though the catalyst was so filmi, the friendship between the pair felt quite substantial and the way the relationship developed was quite organic. Unlike other films where I have wondered why people stuck together, I believed that they were drawn together for a number of smaller reasons that eventually amounted to a significant bond.

Sensing that Rahul needs a break, Riana persuades him to come back to India with her when she visits her family. This eventually brings the story to crisis point. Is it friendship or love he feels? Is she just a compulsive hugger or does she have feelings for him? What will he do about his parents with their unrealistic expectations and social pretensions? If someone loves you do you feel obliged to love them back? It is so refreshing to see characters having some mature conversations about their feelings and what they might mean.

Imran has a youthful good boy look that suits Rahul, and initially seems withdrawn and listless. He loosens up and becomes more impish and demonstrative as Riana draws him out. He has a few moments of cutting loose where he seems to channel the Muppets, and generally hits the spot in his dialogue delivery and expressions. I particularly liked Rahul’s fixation on his teeth. At one point Riana tells Rahul that he is perfectly average – a compliment meaning he was balanced and didn’t do anything to excess. I think that sums it up. Imran gives a measured and deft performance in a film that has no real extremes.

Kareena’s performance is just right in terms of energy and sparkle, and she delivers the more emotional scenes with restraint and intelligence. There are shades of Geet from Jab We Met but Riana is more mature and self aware. Kareena’s rapport with Imran seems quite spontaneous and reinforced the feeling that I was seeing a friendship developing.

The story pivots on Rahul and Riana so the support cast is minimal. I really liked not having an unnecessary subplot. The actors who played Riana’s crazy family were all good, and they helped cement the sense that Riana was a real person and very much the product of her upbringing. There is one character who might fit the comedy uncle designation, demonstrating the vulgarity of the Kapoors’ social milieu, but he was a minor irritation. Boman Irani and Ratna Pathak Shah have perfect timing in their reactions.

The visual design is clean and uncluttered. There are some cute calendar graphics to illustrate the days as they pass, and they suit the laid back modern quirkiness of the story. Shakun Batra uses some wonderful shots of Las Vegas, and I liked seeing the overseas location treated as more than just a song backdrop. When the action moves to India the interiors are perfect for the two families and contrast their vastly different backgrounds. Both Imran and Kareena looked the part, with costume design that was mostly flattering and appropriate.

There are some nifty touches. For example, when Rahul is talking to his dad there is footage of a lion killing a zebra playing in the background, with the action in that sequence matching the ebb and flow of the dialogue. Or when on a date with Rahul, the girl (an old flame) sends a text to ‘Avantika Malik’ saying how dull he is. It’s a well thought out film, with a high level of craftsmanship.

The soundtrack by Amit Trivedi (lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya) is OK but a bit heavy on acoustic guitar and navel gazing. The songs do fit in the drama and the lyrics – while unsubtitled – seemed relevant from what I could make out. Aunty Ji is a highlight for upbeat fun and cheesiness. Imran has clearly been working really hard on dancing and looking like he enjoys it. Plus Jess – post ‘childbirth’ and now a backing vocalist and dancer! Yay!

Given there is usually only a choice of two possible endings, romantic comedies rarely surprise. Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu gave me some characters I liked, actors who did a very good job at realising their roles, an entertaining journey and a conclusion that was fresh and satisfying. It’s not a ground breaking masterpiece, but it is a pleasant and intelligent film. Recommended!

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

I had pretty low expectations of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. But I’ve had a very up and down kind of week, and seeing this with excellent company of a couple of friends was the perfect antidote. The leads are likeable, it’s a pretty film, there are some beautiful locations, I laughed all the way through and the songs are excellent. The comedy was funny, and there were some pleasing references to classic and not so classic Bollywood films. There is nothing in the story that is new, but Ali Abbas Zafar (no relation to the star, Ali Zafar) has done the recycling with wit and charm. It’s a really light hearted undemanding film but I didn’t leave my brain at the door, just my worries.

The story kicks off as Luv (Ali Zafar) breaks up with his girlfriend in London. He asks younger brother Kush (Imran Khan) to find him a bride as he feels it is time to settle down but doesn’t think his parents know him well enough to pick a compatible girl. Luv tells Kush that if Kush likes a girl, he is bound to as well. So you can see where this is going long before old flame Dimple (Katrina Kaif) is trotted out by her parents. Kush and Dimple had never quite got together but he thinks the world of her and so she is the perfect bride for his idolised brother. But what to do when you realise you’re in love with your prospective sister-in-law, and she feels the same? The path to the predictable ending is much more entertaining than I expected and even kind of made sense. Not in a real world logic way, but there was enough context built into the film, and characters behaved in accordance with the internal logic of the story.

Imran is great as the boy next door Kush. He has obviously been working hard on his dancing (and should keep working on it), and that was a plus with so many good songs. His comic timing was spot on and he seemed to have good rapport with his co-stars. A lot of the comedy derives from Kush’s reactions to people and incidents and I thought Imran was able to communicate so much by expression alone, particularly his eyes. The look on his face when Dimple tells Kush that he looks like Amol Palekar was priceless!

Ali Zafar handled the demands of playing a character who was selfish and a bit immature and making him sympathetic and funny. He plays the preening NRI but when he is talking to his little brother those mannerisms drop away and we can see more of the genuine person underneath. Luv was decent in his own self centred way and while the ending was inevitable I also wanted to see him happy, or at least not become Romance Roadkill.

I really liked that both Luv and Kush were shown as fundamentally nice guys, so on one level it didn’t matter who got the girl as there was no villain or obviously bad choice. And both chaps do very good eyebrow acting so they were well matched as brothers.

Katrina’s acting was adequate and she certainly looked lovely. She always used to be the blank faced doll in the short dress, but now when the camera focuses on her eyes it does look like there is somebody home. Her performance in ZNMD was far superior to this and yet the characters could have been very similar. Dimple wasn’t given a lot of nuance, indeed she suffered from the highest WTF quotient, and she mostly played as loud and boisterous. The ‘Suicide!’ scene was a real misfire, but for the most I think Katrina delivered what she was asked to do. Dimple is a rebel, but she’s the good kind of rebel who doesn’t upset her parents.  She struck me as the ideal drinking buddy but a bit too high maintenance to want her as a friend.

It was nice to see a heroine who wasn’t passive and helpless, and while some of her choices made me roll my eyes, some had me cheering. She asks why guys can flirt with lots of girls but if she flirts, she is thought to be a slut. Kush tells Dimple not to change herself but that she must also realise that change in others attitudes would take time. While it was completely filmi, it was still nice that Dimple didn’t have to suffer or be rescued because of her ‘bad girl’ behaviour. The part of the characterisation that worked best for me when Dimple spoke about her fear of losing her identity once she was married, and what that change in her life was going to mean.

There was time for a little bit of reflection and introspection in amongst all the pre wedding shenanigans, but still done with humour.

The screenplay was generous in giving the supporting characters some good dialogue and they all had a little quirk or detail that made them stand out. I’m not convinced by Tara D’Souza as Luv’s ex Piali, but her acting did make everyone else look that much better. She seemed to be given the same direction as Katrina that loud = strong. Arfeen Khan had a difficult role as Ajju, Dimple’s autistic brother, and he was good. He had some really nice little moments interacting with Kush and Dimple, and his timing was great. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub was delightful as Kush’s friend Shobhit, making the most of being a comedy sidekick and bride hunting assistant.

The songs by Sohail Sen are a perfect match for the characters and the tone of the story. This is one of my favourite soundtracks at present and the picturisations are a highlight. From the filmi pastiche choreography of the title track to the rambunctious Madhubala (sung by Ali Zafar) or the sweetly funny Isq Risk there is not one that I didn’t like. There is even a bit of a snake dance! The film also uses songs from older films like Padosan and Caravan to signal or highlight things happening in the story.

While the film is aimed at the youth market, this could be one for the nostalgic folk too. It was that most rare of things – a modern Bollywood comedy with no fart jokes, no sleaze but with lots of humour and abundant song and dance. I don’t think there is anything new or amazing about the film, but don’t we go see movies to be entertained or amused? Mere Brother Ki Dulhan does that, and does it very well.