Blink and you might miss the fierce Indian crime caper ‘Delhi Belly’

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Just after the 20 minute mark, “Delhi Belly,” a sometimes hackneyed, always entertaining dark comedy out of India, is done with character-building and establishing stakes. It’s only concern from then on is shining a goofy light on often brutal gags. The scooter-necktie chase, to name one, lasts just long enough to be hilarious without drawing attention to how rough it is. There’s something to be said for that efficiency.

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That’s not to say the characters are weak. Put-upon journalist Tashi (Imran Khan) is stuck between staying true to his culture and paving his own way. His friends and roommates, sleazy photographer Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur, the weakest of the cast) and Arup (Vir Das), an overworked cartoonist. Tashi’s empty-headed fiancee Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala) unknowingly plays courier for a crime syndicate but can’t follow through, so she thrusts the responsibility onto Tashi, who thrusts onto Nitin, who thrusts it onto Arup.

Needless to say, the package doesn’t get where it needs to be and the three roommates find themselves in syndicate leader Somayajulu’s (Vijay Raaz) crosshairs. He wants his package in 24 hours or he’ll do what crime lords do: kill everyone who crossed the package’s path. Complicating things, Tashi falls in love with his colleague Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan).

In the last half, “Delhi Belly” gets too quick for its own good. It’s tidy for tidy’s sake and is afraid to be as messy as it wants to be. The scatological humor is our first clue to this as it’s ever-present, but never adds to the movie or goes as far as it could. Most of that falls on Nitin, an underwhelming character and performance in general. As prominently featured as he is, you’d think his gags would develop, yet they don’t. Unlike the movie’s best moments, Nitin’s are static and uninteresting. The chemistry between him, Tashi and Arup is what keeps the movie afloat.

Director Abhinay Deo doesn’t veer from that truth. He knows why his movie works and focuses on it. The only misstep in their arc is Arup’s cringe-inducing song and dance about halfway through the movie. Bollywood loves its dance numbers, but when they lack absolute dedication and thematic resonance, they slow the whole thing down. Thankfully, a more fitting song plays over the credits.

For how spread out “Delhi Belly” feels, getting to those credits happens in a flash. Deo speeds through the boring stuff and makes the narrative work for him. This is good and bad. On the one hand, you can see the plot chugging along almost mechanically, and on the other, the movie is too much fun to not enjoy. In rare fashion, the movie’s middle strikes the best balance between those two qualities. It’s just bookended by weaker stuff. Even then, keep an eye to the screen because “Delhi Belly” takes off before you know it.

Title: Delhi Belly
Director: Abhinay Deo
Release date: July 1, 2011
Genre: Comedy
Country: India
Rating: 4 out of 5