December 2, 2011
VIDYA BALAN. Also starring Naseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi, Tusshar Kapoor, Rajesh Sharma
Must every Hindi film that gives primacy to its heroine be about sex and skin show? The question’s been asked by some people since The Dirty Picture’s promos were released. Well, when you see the film you will discover that over, above and beyond the bawdy bedroom scenes and blatant display of bosom, The Dirty Picture is about an actress who has thrown herself into a role and lived the part with no apologies, no holds barred! Seriously, Vidya Balan … wow!
The Dirty Picture is set in 1980s Madras and revolves around an aspiring actress called Reshma (Balan), a girl who fled home because she wanted more out of life than the marriage her mother was nudging her into. Her evident penury in the city does little to stem her feisty spirit, her sense of fun and her passion for cinema which is so great that one day when she’s famished and down to her last few rupees, she chooses to skip food to watch a film instead. Reshma’s persistent visits to film studios pay off when a producer finally notices her doing a sexy dance as an extra in a scene that his prudish director Abraham (Emraan Hashmi) snipped out of a film. Reshma is Discovered, she is renamed Silk, the traditional clothes are exchanged for hot little Western numbers, and her acid tongue and penchant for publicity make her an overnight headline grabber. She is every man’s dirty secret, the actress they fantasise about but don’t take their wives to theatres to watch with them. The Dirty Picture is the story of The Rise and Fall of Silk.
The highlights of this film are Vidya Balan, Vidya Balan, Vidya Balan … and Rajat Aroraa’s crackling dialogues. Oh the joy of hearing Abraham say, If Silk was the last woman on earth, I’d get a vasectomy done! The excellent make-up genuinely highlights the decline of the marquee star (though I’m not sure why her ascent to glamourdom had to be marked by her dark skin lightening up). The costumes and styling perfectly recreate those tawdry films of the 1980s. There’s also some supremely intelligent music direction by Vishal-Shekhar whose gorgeous Ooh la la – so beautifully picturised! – transports us back three decades.
I also enjoyed the way language has been used in this film. The costumes and car number plates make it clear that the story is set in Tamil Nadu, but director Milan Luthria (who earlier collaborated with Balaji on Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai) has wisely chosen not to get his cast to desperately struggle with accents. Nor are the Hindi dialogues peppered with Tamil. Such half measures often lead to amusing inconsistency. Interesting decision, Messrs Luthria and Aroraa!
Of the supporting cast, Naseeruddin Shah is good as the male star who retains his numero uno status despite his advancing years and expanding waistline, in an industry that easily tires of its leading ladies. But the actor I hope will get nominated at all the Awards next year along with Balan is the excellent Rajesh Sharma playing the producer who discovers Silk. Earlier this year, Sharma turned in a fabulous performance as a policeman with shades of gray in No One Killed Jessica. I can still hear him say, “Aap kaunsi duniya main rehti ho Sabrinaji?”
The kilos that Balan gained for this film are very much in evidence, as a sexily voluptuous Silk degenerates into the alcoholic and pot-bellied falling star. The impact of Vidya’s courageous physical transformation and acting, combined with all that entertaining dialoguebaazi however, do not alter the fact that The Dirty Picture is a highly flawed film. The performances by Tusshar Kapoor (as Naseer’s younger brother) and Hashmi lack depth, the story (especially in the second half) is riddled with loopholes and not enough attention has been paid to the character graphs! Which leaves me with too many questions that the film fails to answer … A starving Reshma/Silk is propositioned by a sleazy man in a theatre one night; she refuses to prostitute herself to him despite her desperation, so how come she does not think for a second before casually sleeping with the hero of her very first film at the very first sign of trouble? What explains Abraham’s extreme animosity towards Silk and his dramatic turnaround? Why did Reshma/Silk’s mother abruptly change her mind about her daughter right in the end? Was Silk in love with her superstar idol or was she simply hurt at being mis-treated?
There is also a certain dishonesty in the approach to the subject that is gnawing at me. For months, the producers let it be known that The Dirty Picture is the story of south Indian cinema’s sex symbol of the 1980s, Silk Smitha. Then on November 4, in the shadow of legal action from the real Silk’s family, Balaji Pictures issued a statement clarifying that the film is “a work of fiction, and any characters’ resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental”. So if this is not the late Silk Smitha’s biopic, if the leading lady in this film is only a composite of several actresses of that era, then why has the character been called Silk and why was Silk Smitha’s birthday carefully chosen as the release date for this film? Are such publicity stunts justified when it involves the reputation of a human being who can no longer defend herself?The ethical debate apart, this would have been half the film that it is right now without Balan and the sharp dialogue writing. All those lovely individual ingredients have somehow not been cooked up into a wholesome whole, but are so darned good on their own that The Dirty Picture ends up being paisa vasool. And seriously, Vidya Balan … wow!
Rating (out of five): ***
CBFC Rating: A
Photograph courtesy: http://www.facebook.com/thedirtypicturefilm