Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan’s new film has been a hit at the box office but has also led to protests and even a court case against its dialogue and content, which critics say is vulgar and offensive.
The screwball comedy Delhi Belly, starring the actor-producer-director’s nephew Imran Khan, revolves around three, scruffy, debt-ridden room-mates who unwittingly fall into a life of crime with a mafia boss.
The film, which is mainly in English with a profanity-peppered dialogue and toilet humour, had by Monday taken a total of Indian Rs487.5 million ($10.9 million) since it opened on July 1, the web site Bollywood Hungama said.
But with India as a whole still a conservative place, not everyone is happy.
On Monday protesters stormed a cinema in the western city of Kolhapur, forcing a screening of the film to be cancelled.
Another theatre was attacked in the central city of Indore following action by a right-wing Hindu organisation that called for the movie to be banned for having too much abusive and vulgar language.
Even in India’s more liberal entertainment capital, Mumbai, a complaint was filed in court, accusing Aamir Khan, who has a cameo role, of showing “obscene” acts and outraging and insulting religion or religious beliefs.
Industry analysts, however, have said the film has aroused public interest as it was a reflection of young people in modern, urban India.
“‘Delhi Belly’ is on its way to becoming a sort of a cult film for the youth because it speaks the language they speak,” said Komal Nahta, who tracks Hindi-language cinema.
Pre-publicity focused on a song whose lyrics suggested a popular expletive in northern India, the scatology and the sex scenes of the protagonists.
“Many people wanted to go and check the film and find out themselves what was so different in it,” said Vinod Mirani, a Bollywood trade analyst.
“The curiosity value due to a good marketing plan has worked well.”
Also named in the court case, which has been adjourned until later this month, are Khan’s wife, Kiran Rao, who produced the film, UTV Motion Pictures chief Ronnie Screwvala, director Abhinay Deo and the writer Akshat Verma.
“Delhi Belly” has an “A” certificate, allowing only viewers above 18 years old, but some have criticised India’s censor board for allowing it through uncut.
One outraged critic, fearing for the collapse of traditional values, suggested they had failed in their duty as “the custodian of (the) censor code” and called for the government to axe funding to the regulatory body.
Delhi Belly used foul words that were becoming “the normal lingo or behaviour of our young professionals,” Mohan Siroya wrote on the Shadow Play site.
Aamir Khan, whose production company is behind the film, is unperturbed by the criticism and threw a party last week to toast its success.
“I am glad the audiences have loved the film and enjoyed it,” he said.
Verma wrote the film in 1996 but could not find any interest for it, he added. Khan’s wife got hold of the script and decided to make it immediately, he said.
The 15-year wait indicates how far Hindi-language cinema has come, moving from a time when even kisses between the hero and heroine were censored to one where sexual suggestiveness and even nudity is more accepted.
Film critic Taran Adarsh said the involvement of Aamir Khan had undoubtedly helped in its success but so had its innovative script.
“It’s a shift from what people like these days and from what’s been churned out by Bollywood,” he told AFP.
“We have to respect the opinion of the censors (and) the fact that they’ve allowed a film like this. It’s not stereotypical but it is a bit bolder in terms of its visual content and speaking. I think it’s beyond the boundaries.”
The key test is whether future films with similar content are treated in the same way, he added.