In spite of its conspicuously crude sense of humor, Delhi Belly is much more family-minded and innocent than it would like its young target audience to believe. Unlike Mumbai Diaries, a mediocre but curiously atypical indie drama produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, Delhi Belly, also produced by the husband-and-wife team, is only nominally rebellious. As a film that’s rather vocal about its playfully anarchic stance, Delhi Belly pokes fun of anyone that vaguely resembles an authority figure and features a lot of unfunny scatological humor (its central conflict arises after a stool sample is accidentally replaced with a package containing some mysterious illicit product), but it also emphatically embraces Bollywood films’ cheerfully naïve tendency of cherishing family and happy heterosexual coupledom above everything else.
The fact that Delhi Belly is so meek allows Khan and Rao to cover their asses since their production company’s tagline is “clean, family entertainment”—but it only serves to neuter the film. Then again, while Delhi Belly isn’t as obnoxious or offensive as the film’s PR campaign would have viewers believe (Khan called the film an “adult comedy”), it’s at least stridently unique. Tashi (Imran Khan), a young reporter that only wants to pursue serious news stories, is tasked by his oblivious girlfriend, Sonia (Shenaz Treasury), with delivering the aforementioned mystery package to a man that Sonia doesn’t even know and for reasons that are never sufficiently explained. Tashi then asks Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur), one of his two uncouth roommates, to deliver the package for him. Stricken with the titular stomach virus, Nitin hands over both a stool sample he wants his doctor to look at and the package to Arup (Vir Das), roommate number three, who winds up giving an angry criminal a canister full of shit by accident. Everybody then chases everybody else so they can get their hands on the package first.
Screenwriter Akshat Verma tries very hard to impress you with Tashi and his roommates’ improper behavior. Most of the time, the jokes in Delhi Belly are too cartoonishly innocent to be worth taking seriously, like its copious poop jokes and the hardly scandalous subplot where Nitin tries to blackmail his landlord with photos of the landlord visiting a prostitute. The film’s wildly uneven comedic sensibility, if anything, suggests a raunchy Bollywood version of Looney Tunes. For instance, after Arup finds out the girl he’s dating is engaged, he daydreams a musical number where he breaks up the impending marriage by publicly announcing that the bride-to-be once gave him a blow job.
It should be noted that, with the exception of a momentary glimpse at runny stool, almost nothing too crass is ever visualized in Delhi Belly, not even when evil gangsters torture the man that gives Sonia the package by shoving a lit stick of dynamite up his ass. Then again, the most boorish of the film’s jokes is a suggestive, proudly un-PC joke made at the expense of Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), one of Tashi’s colleagues. Menaka is called a “lesbo” simply because she doesn’t act phased or particularly alarmed when a friend of hers calls a mutual acquaintance a “lesbo” too. The viewer can’t even imagine the transgressive behavior that’s being alluded to by that joke because Verma is too afraid to offend anyone to actually earn the squirms he’s striving for with even a small girl-on-girl kiss. It’s a teasing homophobic gag that’s actually all the more offensive for how accidental and wispy it seems.
With the exception of the “lesbo” joke, Delhi Belly is by and large too concerned with not offending its audience too much for it to ever even be that shocking. (Spoilers herein.) For instance, Arup’s landlord is eventually let off the hook and the incriminating photos are never delivered, giving him the opportunity to keep the trust and love of his happy, clueless wife. Furthermore, Tashi may not wind up marrying Sonia, but he does hook up with Menaka, proving that she’s not in fact a “lesbo.” Hetero-normative balance is restored in the end, reducing Delhi Belly‘s events to a series of meaningless antics with an inexplicably moral conclusion. Here’s hoping Rao and Khan do better at shocking audiences with their next “adult” comedy.