A landslide of catastrophes keeps three hapless roommates one small step ahead of jealous boyfriends, faithless lovers, zealous cops and gun-toting gangsters in “Delhi Belly,” a smartly paced, highly entertaining Bollywood gagfest. No comic masterpiece, perky pic nevertheless boasts likable characters, colorful villains, well-timed gags and Ram Sampath’s extremely catchy tunes, all woven into a seamless, escalating whole. This mostly English-language item, opening internationally July 1, should score well domestically and triumph in the diaspora, but will require considerable critical and promotional support to cash in on its inherent crossover appeal.
A rundown Delhi apartment is home to Arun (Vir Das), an artist toiling unappreciated in an advertising agency; Nitin (Kunaal Roy Rapur), a photographer and sometime blackmailer; and Tashi (Imran Khan), a fledgling reporter about to get married. This particular day finds each roommate wrestling with personal demons: Arun’s beloved girlfriend has suddenly dumped him, Nitin’s impulsive indulgence in street food has given him a noisy, noxious case of Delhi belly, and Tashi finds himself in a high-speed car chase, dodging bullets from the jealous ex-husband of his amused, platonic colleague Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan). All the while, Tashi is second-guessing his commitment to fiancee Sonia (Shenaz Treasury), who expects him to give up journalism and join her father’s firm.
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But all this mounting angst and uncertainty pales next to the big-league calamity that awaits them. Sonia’s favor to a friend and the mix-up of a stool sample and a Russian doll full of diamonds land the three buddies on the wrong side of an international smuggling ring headed by sinister crime lord Somayajulu (Viray Raaz), who shamelessly grandstands to his audience of minions as he demands to know the missing jewels’ whereabouts.
Sophomore scripter Akshat Verna has crafted a tightly interconnected screenplay in which every element satisfyingly hooks back into the action. Even the, er, running scatological gag concerning Nitin’s gastric difficulties, which takes on surprising levels of complexity, interfaces significantly with the main plot.
Musical numbers in particular carry a pleasurable no-gag-left-behind feel. Tashi first meets Menaka at an interview with an airhead star whose future project, a song inanely titled “I Hate You (Like I Love You)” sparks instant sardonic kinship between the journalists. Later, of course, the tune returns as a megahit, hilariously interpreted by none other than pic’s superstar producer Aamir Khan.
Sophomore helmer Abhinay Deo keeps the action flowing swiftly, maintaining breathless momentum without giving short shrift to character nuances.