July 22, 2021
Filmmaker Abhinay Deo’s Delhi Belly (2011) — an irresistible Hinglish comedy that signaled a new youthful eccentricity in Bollywood — underlines the principle that defines middle-class Indian living: jugaad. In a country where people don’t live, but survive against all odds, jugaad refers to a state of perpetual improvisation and innovation. Delhi Belly revolves around three roommates — Tashi (Imran Khan), Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur), and Arup (Vir Das) — who use their homegrown resourcefulness to counter spells of misfortune, frequent misadventures, and lack of money. These 20-somethings are slackers stuck in dead-end jobs: Tashi is a journalist forced to profile video jockeys, Arup is a cartoonist at an ad agency that undermines his creativity, and Nitin is a press photographer. None of them make much money, given that they live together in a dilapidated single-bedroom Delhi apartment with cockroaches, a crumbling ceiling, and a broken toilet. It’s probably all they can afford.
At its heart, Delhi Belly is a movie about that period in your 20s when life goes to shit. It’s also a movie about shit (the film’s title is a colloquial reference to diarrhea). Delhi Belly’s observational comedy — replete with graphic profanity, toilet humor, and sexual candor — didn’t shy away from getting down and dirty, drawing its laughs from the absurdity of daily life. The movie accurately represented how India’s middle-class millennials led double lives, found themselves in stifling relationships, and made impulsive decisions. Ten years since, Delhi Belly boasts a cult following. Despite its dialogue being 70% in English, the film — written by Akshat Varma, an unknown debutante screenwriter, and produced by Aamir Khan — earned ₹91 crores ($12.6 million) at the box office on only a ₹23 crore ($3 million) budget, and led to Tamil and Telugu remakes. Its success showed a prudish film industry that it was possible for a comedy to be both intelligent and raunchy. And in the last decade, arguably no Bollywood film has come close to replicating the easy authenticity of Delhi Belly.