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'No one wanted to finance Delhi Belly'

Last updated on: July 21, 2011 16:30 IST

'No one wanted to finance Delhi Belly'

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Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai

From a college workshop in Los Angeles to Bollywood: Writer Akshat Verma and Producer Jim Furgele take Sonil Dedhia through the making of Delhi Belly and working with Aamir Khan.

The tagline of Delhi Belly is 'Shit Happens'. When did Shit happen to you all?

Akshat: I think shit has never stopped happening to me. For me shit happens in a positive way. I would say getting rejected by all the premier institutes in India was good for me. It challenged me.

Jim: Shit happened to me during my harrowing ride on a Mumbai local. We had passes for the premier of a film which was in Andheri. Akshat and his cousins thought I should experience the local flavour of the city so we hopped on to a train at Churchgate. When we started there were very few people, but station after station, people just kept piling in and I was squashed. It was raining and I was standing near the door. When our destination came, I tried to push myself out. The others got out but I was still stuck in the train as it started moving. I jumped out and just rolled out of the platform.

Have either of you experienced a Delhi Belly?

Jim: Yes, I got a killer one. This guy was laughing at me. During the pre-productions I got a severe case of stomach upset and lost six kilos in three days.

Akshat: He didn't step out of his room for three days. I almost thought he was dead (winks).

Jim: Let me tell you Akshat's case. When we were doing the technical screening, Akshat, Abhinay and Aamir all had a Delhi Belly. They had eaten something and I hadn't because I wasn't hungry. So I got my chance to laugh at him!


Image: Akshat Verma and Jim Furgele
Photographs: Akshat Verma's photo by Rakhee Yadav
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Akshat: The idea of Delhi Belly came from a ceiling fan

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Where did the idea of Delhi Belly come from?

Akshat: I started writing the film at a workshop at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Jim Furgele was also a part of the workshop. But the idea first came to my mind when I was still in India. When I went to sleep at night I was paranoid that the ceiling fan would fall down and crash onto my head and my skull would open in the middle of the night. So then I started thinking, after the fan comes down, there is a hole in the ceiling and what happens to the people living upstairs? I got this image of the foot sticking out of the hole from the ceiling. That is where the whole idea of Delhi Belly came from.

How did you two meet?       

Jim: I was a part of the workshop. The first time I read the script, the movie was called Say Cheese. What interested me was his writing. It was funny. It made me laugh and for me, at the end of the day, I like to enjoy, and this script made me feel happy. The core of the story was very universal and I just fell in love with it. It was just a fantastic script.

What made you name the movie Delhi Belly?

Akshat: Delhi Belly was born from that one incident that changes the whole narrative in the film. The scene where Nitin buys chicken from the street vendor, and after that, things go haywire. It is the turning point in the film. Because of one upset stomach, everyone's life turns upside down. I also felt that to have an English title would be more reflective of the nature of the film.

Jim: Also the fact that when we spoke to people, the name seemed to be associated with a travellers' diary.


Image: A still from Delhi Belly

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'There's actually a dish named after Delhi Belly in the US'

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What kind of response did you get when you titled the film Delhi Belly?

Akshat: I came to India with it and people were completely fine with the title, but nobody responded to it. Everybody was excited after hearing the script, but no one wanted to finance the film.

Jim: I'll tell you an incident about the title. Shenaz Treasury, who plays the character of Sonia, does a soap opera in the USA and while she was being interviewed for it, Delhi Belly was mentioned on her resume. The producer and the writers of the show loved the name so much that they have actually named a dish 'Delhi Belly'! They thought it was very funny and everybody on the set orders the dish.

What made you shift base to America?

Akshat: I wouldn't have ended up in the USA if all the higher institutions in India had not rejected me. I applied to FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) and made it through the test for two years but couldn't pass the all-India interview round. NID (National Institute of Design) has a written exam but I didn't make it to the interview round.  The second time they didn't even allow me to sit for the exam. I don't know why. Maybe they rejected me after seeing my face.

Jim: Yeah, man, look at your face. USA has much lower standards, maybe that's why they accepted you!

Akshat: Yes, they tried stopping me at the immigration desk, but by that time it was too late.

You don't have such a bad face.

Jim: When he came to the USA, his hair was similar to Arup's in the movie.

Akshat: I have curly hair so when it completely grows out it looks huge. Birds have lost their way in my hair (Laughs). But on a serious note, it was just a blessing in disguise that every institute in India rejected me. I say it proudly. I think those schools didn't know what they were doing.

Jim: It also allowed you to go west. When you wrote Delhi Belly and also whatever you are planning to write next, it will be a fusion of both cultures.

Image: A still from Delhi Belly

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'Everything you see in the film, even swear words, are there for a reason'

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Did you always want to go to film school?

Akshat: Yes, and I wanted to go to the USA to study, but I didn't know how I would do it. I needed formal training in films.  Going to film school was extremely beneficial to me as I was surrounded by people who were much smarter than I was, so I was able to learn a lot of things. I wanted to tell stories that weren't being told in India. 

Jim, how have you contributed to the script of Delhi Belly?

Jim: I don't know that I had much to do with the script, but I fought many battles to keep it close to the script. It so happens that at the last moment the director or his assistant changes the lines, or tries to improvise the script, but when someone did that with our script, we would stop at the same moment. Akshat has written 15 drafts of the film and there is a reason why every word is there in the script.

Akshat: Our working styles are quite similar. The dialogues were written very specifically with a certain sound, rhythm, and at a certain pace, and I didn't want people to come and improvise on it.

When you were making the film did you think, about certain elements in it, that you would just see what happens?

Akshat: Absolutely. When I was writing the script, I didn't think I had to put in these swear words. It just came naturally as my duty was to be true to the characters and having a screenplay which showed how real these people were. Everything that you see in the film is there for a reason. I thought that some characters spoke this language and they needed these swear words, while there are other characters that don't use expletives.


Image: A still from Delhi Belly

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Jim: I called Akshat and offered to help as a producer

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It took you almost 15 years to get to the final draft, so what else were you doing?

Akshat: When I say 15 years, it means that the first draft was written in 1996, but it doesn't mean that it took me 15 years to write the script. Once I graduated, I started doing various odd jobs, and then I joined an advertising company as a copywriter. At some point I realised that I have to start my film career. I had only written the first draft, which is like shit. I don't know why, but I picked it up and started writing it.

Jim: We went our own ways after the programme got over. I was in the same boat as Akshat. We read a new draft of the film at our friend's place and I was in love with it. We again didn't get in touch for around four months. Then, out of the blue one day I called Akshat and offered to help as a producer. This was in mid-2005. I started researching about Bollywood and started meeting some people from the film fraternity. I put on the whole budget and I told Akshat if we had to do this we had to come to India.

How much of rejection did you face once you were in India?

Jim: Oh, that's an interesting story in itself (smiles). When we came to India I set up all the meetings with a lot of big production houses. We would narrate the story and come out positive. The production houses would then look deeper into the project and would refuse to be a part of it.


Image: A still from Delhi Belly

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Akshat: Aamir has a wicked sense of humour

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What convinced Aamir Khan to back the film?

Akshat: The script. He connected to the material. There is a perception about Aamir that he is very serious. Once you get to know him, you realise that he has a very wicked sense of humour. He is a very funny guy.

What was your first interaction with Aamir?

Jim: While I was in Mumbai I watched a lot of Bollywood films but could not connect to them. Then I saw Lagaan and I thought Aamir was the right guy. I wanted to get hold of him for two reasons: we thought it would be interesting for him to do a part in the film and also we wanted him to produce the film. We left the script with his maid and flew back to America.

After five days I got a short e-mail from Aamir, asking for details about the film. We spoke on the phone and he said he wanted to meet us.

Akshat: I remember this incident. I was about to get into a client meeting when Jim called me and said that Aamir had called and he said he wanted to meet us. The rest of my conversation with my client was a blur!

 


Image: A still from Delhi Belly

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Akshat: We were nervous and excited to meet Aamir

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What happened when you met Aamir? Were you nervous and excited?

Akshat: All of that (Laughs). We came from America and we were staying at Colaba at a cousin's place. We were jet-lagged but somehow managed to get ourselves together and go to Aamir's home in Bandra. We walk into the house to meet one of the biggest stars in the world.

Jim: Let me interrupt. Aamir never acted like a big celebrity.

Akshat: Yes, it's amazing to see how down to earth he is. So we were sitting in his study room and he came in. A plate of omelettes followed him and Aamir kept on eating them and every half-hour there would be something to eat. We were like 'what is going on?' After some time, he told us to come back the next day when he had called some friends over to hear the script.

Jim: We go back to Colaba and we started to prepare for it. We decided to split the script and started rehearsing for it.

Akshat: Hold on, Jim. Let me tell him how you ruin my life (smiles).  We got back to Colaba in the evening and rehearsed for some time and I was completely jet-lagged. Jim comes and tells me we must rehearse the script once again the next morning and he would wake me up at 5 am -- and he actually did.

Jim: (Laughing loudly) But the beauty of it was that we started narrating the script to Aamir and as soon as we finished two pages, Aamir got up and told us that it was very confusing and asked if only Akshat could continue with it! So, all the preparation was thrown out of the window. (Laughs again)

Who else was present?

Akshat:  Along with Aamir there was Mansoor Khan and his wife, Kiran Rao and Amin Hajee.


Image: A still from Delhi Belly

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Jim: Akshat's next will be a period film on Mother Teresa

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Can you now say that Delhi Belly has started a new genre?

 Akshat: I don't know. It would be too large a claim to make. We made a film that we wanted everyone to enjoy. What happens around it is not in anybody's hands. It might be that filmmakers realise that there is a part of the market that we were ignoring.

You have delivered one of the finest comedies. What else can you pull out of your bag?

Akshat: A lot of things. What defines your career is longevity. You keep doing good work over and over again, and sustain it.   would not like to make only comedy movies.

Jim: Akshat's next will be a period film on Mother Teresa (smiles sarcastically). It will be an earnest film.

Akshat: Yes, with no expletives and no random sex scenes. 

Image: A still from Delhi Belly

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