06 July 2011

The theme of retribution in Delhi Belly

The fact that this Akshat Varma penned script, stylishly directed by Abhinay Deo is a tightly-woven, smartly executed one is something all reviews have agreed. Varma – probably on account of having studied script-writing abroad – follows one of the essential rules of filmmaking – not to waste details. Every scene and reference in small or big ways adds to the development of the film – sooner or later. The story by itself is not novel, but it is this adherence to a simple scripting rule that makes this mad-cap, irreverent flick seem instantly fresh and unusual from the run-of-the-mill Hindi-film experience.

But I come to a different point about Delhi Belly. This is not a film that is particularly bothered about appearing intellectual and profound – it is happy to be a dark, wicked comic thriller. And yet, I felt the film is very strong on subliminals. It’s not like the writer is necessarily aiming for it, but I detected a strong theme of retribution in Varma’s work.

Retribution is the idea of justice. You are punished for what you do wrong and rewarded what you do right. The three guys in the film (Imran, Vir, Kunal) stay in a dump, leading the most wretched, lazy, indifferent life. This is not uncommon with bachelors, but the writer recogonises that his protagonists need to wake up and gives them the jolt of their life. The film picks them up and throws them in the deep end of the sea, and challenges them to find a way out now. The fact that Varma has some affection for his protagonists goes without saying. These are well-meaning, decent chaps. But he raises a storm – makes everything go wrong for them – until they take stock of their life – a coming-of-age of sorts. They are rewarded in the end. Imran gets the girl he wants, and the three of them get to keep the pickings.

This is the overarching retribution theme, but it works in every aspect of the film’s development. The writer takes no high moral ground anywhere, but there a subtle sense of poetic justice embedded into his script. Portly Nitin freely ogles at an actress, takes her photos from ‘those’ angles. His next stop is to a brothel where he could be a regular. The boob-press scene shows he enjoys some familiarity around. Today he is on business. His intent? To take pictures of his landlord (for all outward appearances a working-class, respectable man) in compromising positions with a prostitute. Nitin finds a simple blackmail the best immediate option for their rent woes. The writer sets up these things in such a way that you can’t help feel that Nitin is probably getting his just desserts. He suffers a horrible stomach upset that embarrasses him throughout the film. Nitin’s ordeal might be funny to the audience, but it’s never once a laughing matter to anyone in the film itself. His smug expression at the start of the film is soon replaced by a helpless, jolted one.

The writer derives fun out of Nitin’s uncomfortable state, and also from the landlord’s, who gets a caustic tongue-lashing from his police inspector bro. Both get away in the end, because of a certain good act by them. Nitin stands by Tashi in his hour of need, and is clever – so he deserves the money he gets. Comically, the landlord – having no clue that Nitin is behind the blackmailing – like a helpful neighbour takes him to the clinic for his check-up. Naturally, this goodness melts Nitin’s heart, and once his own troubles are over, he wastes no time in sending the landlord an anonymous letter asking him to forget about the photos. “Lead a happy life’ it says. This is one of the most heart-warming scenes in the film, because this is the first kindly emotion the writer allows you to feel in this otherwise chaotic, crazed, messed up world.

The retribution theme takes full force with the character of Vir Das (Arup) who is ditched by his girl friend. Cinematically, he is allowed a grand revenge with Jaa Chudail, even though the story cannot follow the girl in question.
Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala ) pays for her dumbness with humiliation at the hands of the gangster (Raaz). But to Akshat’s credit – and this would have seemed very sexist and unacceptable otherwise – he is not entirely callous with her character. Rightly, she slaps Tashi hard, in full view of others for ditching her. In the last scene Nitin wonders whether he can start dating her if Taashi is not seeing her anymore. “She’s hot!’ he says. So Sonia’s feminine graces are allowed to be kept.

The jeweller loses his money because he was a cheat. The most splendid character of the film Vijay Raaz – who the writer etches with great delight – has to die for not letting off his protagonist after he recovers his diamonds. But he’s not casually disposed off like a cheap villain. There is a cinematic grandness to his death as the shot hits his forehead and the blood drops in slow motion. Here was no ordinary man, the writer seems to say.

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