In this weekly series, Rahul Desai lists 50 of Hindi cinema’s favourite “third wheels” – that is, memorable characters whose roles are little more than fleeting cameos and little less than supporting turns – since 1990. There will be no particular order: just a colourful recollection of emblematic faces who’ve left us craving for more.
Twice in consecutive days in 2011, I remember guffawing my way out of an interval-less Delhi Belly. I was firmly of the opinion that Akshat Verma’s criminally clever script, directed by ad-man Abhinay Deo and backed by Aamir Khan, had the power to revolutionize the “concept” of comedy in Indian cinema. It did not. But that by no means diminishes its reputation as perhaps the most pitch-perfect situational caper of our times. Neither the writer nor the filmmaker has since been able to replicate this sadistic symphony of sass.
A hysterical cocktail of diarrhea and diamonds, Delhi Belly bristled with memorable characters across the board. Kunaal Roy Kapoor’s tummy, Vir Das’ neck, Rahul Singh’s pistol, Ram Sampath’s wicked soundtrack, Poorna Jagannathan’s calm and Shenaz Treasurywala’s ditzy-ness became (niche) household topics. Even a spirited Imran Khan, who was choosing some very interesting new-age movies, thrived as the film’s “hero”. But Delhi Belly’s Delhi-ness was immortalized by the inimitable Vijay Raaz as the droll, dastardly don desperate for his diamonds.
Expletives roll off Raaz’s tongue, as they often do, like pure poetry – no other actor today has such sharp linguistic control over the sacred mother-and-sister oddities of the Hindi language. As Somayajulu, the godfather of gunmen and gangsters, he commands the screen as the kind of legendary character who is constantly at odds with the genre of the movie he occupies. In his head he is a stylish desi Guy-Ritchie-type villain, but the film consistently undermines his aura and makes him feel more like a Pink Panther baddie.
At times it’s unclear whether he is frustrated with his luck or with the gall of a movie that refuses to afford him the respect he deserves. The ruthless wild-west-ish music that accompanies his entries seems to almost be mocking his attitude rather than scoring it. The best part about this don’s existence is that the film constantly contrives to embarrass him even in the face of his overwhelming masculinity. Even his temper, ruthless as it is to the people he is threatening to kill, seems funny in context of his absurd surroundings.
Not to mention the clueless, poker-faced expressions of his loyal henchmen – one of who considers it his duty to receive the choicest abuses and cold stares by the movies’ ultimate silver-tongued devil. To see him break into a tirade of foul-mouthed angst is one of Hindi cinema’s most satisfactory gifts. Raaz has since excelled as the wry countryman who consistently looks like he is being disappointed by the very passage of time.
When he takes the three bumbling young men hostage in their crumbling flat, Raaz’s character and personality harmoniously merge together with the serenity of a bored serial killer. On one hand, he is struggling to understand the sheer incompetence of everyone that messed up a simple smuggling operation. On the other, he is enraged that a villain of his stature is reduced to chasing down the source of this chaos like a second-hand salesman.
When he finally gets his diamonds, the artist in him takes over: he elegantly unravels his velvet cloth on the table to inspect the veracity of these stones. The last time he did this, a lump of watery shit soiled his beloved cloth. This time, the classical music from the Kathak lessons upstairs seamlessly drifts into the scene’s soundscape and lends his flamboyant moment a tone of unparalleled artistry. It’s these little flourishes of genius – by both filmmaker and character – that make Delhi Belly such a gloriously loose-limbed anomaly in Bollywood’s crass adult-comedy landscape.