Why “Delhi Belly” Remains Bollywood’s Best Slacker Comedy

Ten years ago, Bollywood made a runaway hit about that period in your 20s when life goes to shit. No film has since come close to replicating it.

Poulomi Das

July 22, 2021

Why “Delhi Belly” Remains Bollywood’s Best Slacker Comedy
Kunaal Roy Kapur, Imran Khan, and Vir Das in "Delhi Belly"

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.