Ranbir Kapoor was a strong contender for 'Delhi Belly': Director Abhinay Deo
Ranbir Kapoor was a strong contender for 'Delhi Belly': Director Abhinay Deo

Director Abhinay Deo has fond memories of working on his debut film "Delhi Belly" and remembers how actor Ranbir Kapoor was a strong contender for the lead role that was eventually played by Imran Khan in the movie, which completed a decade on Thursday.

Released on July 1, 2011, "Delhi Belly" featured Imran Khan, Vir Das and Kunaal Roy Kapur as three friends who become the target of a gangster after they misplace his diamonds.

Backed by Aamir Khan, the film became an instant hit with its irreverent and adult humour, unabashed profanity, and a catchy soundtrack by Ram Sampath.

Deo said when he recently saw the film, he was surprised how "Delhi Belly" still held his attention.

"My son was watching it about six months ago. I chanced upon it and sat with him. I enjoyed the film for the first time, possibly nine years after its release! I still ended up seeing all the flaws but what a ride. It was my first film. I am emotionally attached to it," the director told PTI in an interview.

While the film was a turning point for Imran Khan, who was going through a poor phase at the box office after his blockbuster debut "Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na" (2008), Deo said Kapoor's name had also come up in the discussion as the potential lead.

"Ranbir was one of the people we had spoken to at that stage. He had heard the script. In the early stages, we were looking at various people and genuinely felt Ranbir was a very strong contender for the film. But that didn't work out for various reasons," Deo said.

The director said the film was made and cast in an extremely systematic manner, with auditions held for every part.

Since one of the producers of the film, Jim Furgele and its writer Akshat Verma were based out of Los Angeles, the production followed the filmmaking process of the US, he said.

Kapoor, however, never reached the audition stage.

The story of how "Delhi Belly" came to life from a script dates back to 2008 when Aamir Khan and his filmmaker wife Kiran Rao were getting ready to leave for an event.

Rao, while waiting for Aamir Khan, picked up the first script lying on top of the pile as it had come in the same day.

"She read the name, 'Delhi Belly' and thought it was interesting. She started reading it and couldn't stop laughing. Aamir asked her what she was laughing about. Then he joined her and ultimately they didn't go to the event because they continued reading the script. The same night, around 1 am, they called the writers," Deo said.

The director's journey with "Delhi Belly" began the same year, when both, Aamir Khan and Verma reached out to him individually.

Deo said he was surprised why they were suddenly interested in an ad filmmaker to direct a film. At that stage, he was one of the directors in consideration.

"But once we met and discussed, it was fine. Except, I was committed to a film with Excel Entertainment at that point. I was signed by them and they had our dates locked. I could not take on the project and said no," Deo said.

The director was signed on to helm Excel Entertainment's "Game", which also released in 2011.

Because of his unavailability, the "Delhi Belly" team went with the second person they had in mind, a Swedish director.

But as luck would have it, six-eight months later, his film with Excel also shifted.

"Then Aamir called me again when he found out my dates had shifted. Something had not gone right with the other director. Aamir asked if I was up for it. I didn't want to let go of the opportunity and immediately said yes." When the discussions resumed with Deo, he recalled Aamir Khan being "extremely excited" about the project.

There were, however, apprehensions given the film's language and humour.

"The first discussion that happened with Aamir, when we all sat together, was 'Are you sure this film will work in India?' I said this would set a mark. Aamir started laughing and told me 'it's a fun film'. But I told it was an irreverent and non-hypocritical film, which talked about the language of the youth. There was no message." "Delhi Belly" also benefited from a solid supporting cast, led by Vijay Raaz, Poorna Jagannathan and Danish star Kim Bodnia, best known for the hit British spy thriller series "Killing Eve".

Deo said he was a fan of Bodnia, even before he became a globally known face with the Phoebe Waller-Bridge created show.

"He is an absolutely amazing actor. He's partly Russian and partly from Denmark. Akshat and I wanted someone who looks Russian, is a good actor, and ready to be a part of a small film. We reached out to a few but Kim was so enthralled with the idea of coming to India and doing the part." "Delhi Belly" was shot in 2009 and the team was ready with it by 2010. The movie had to wait for at least nine months to get a theatrical release as Aamir Khan wanted to first release his other productions, "Peepli Live" (2010) and "Dhobi Ghat" (2011).

But before they could have a release, the makers had to prepare for a battle with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), which was a "crazy phase" for them, Deo said.

"We were apprehensive, felt we would get banned and get a lot of flack. At that point of time, the head of CBFC was Pankaja Thakur, who was extremely progressive." Deo said both he and Aamir Khan decided to directly apply for an 'Adult' certificate to avoid any hassle.

"We were clear that this kind of film should not be for anybody less than 18. That's the reason I feel the process became simpler. There were no cuts, no alterations. Even the CBFC members were laughing during the screening."

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