Mayank Shekhar's review: The Dirty Picture

Director: Milan Luthria
Actors: Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi
Rating: ***

“Uh, ah, aah…” she moans, faking an orgasm before the camera and dozens of crew members. She’d learnt this trick while trying to keep her neighbours from disturbing her at night. The walls in her shared, shabby house didn’t conceal the lovemaking sounds from the next room. She thought she could make some noises of her own. That would shame the husband-wife couple to sleep.

The girl, once Reshma, now Silk of the semi-porn screen, keeps her blouse low, saree lifted up enough, to reveal round breasts, deep cleavage, ‘thunder thighs’ (wherever that expression comes from), besides a jiggly belly, proud girth, chubby cheeks, long silken hair: basically a female form that unites collective fantasies of the provincial male.

The Indian man derives his desires from ancient sculptures, the kinds that make for ruins in caves of Khajuraho or Ajanta-Ellora. Silk is that for the silver screen. This is her story. Or one of the human race, as the narrator says: “Look at history, two things don’t change: man dominates, woman causes aafat (calamity)!” Marx was obviously wrong about class struggles!

This narrator is a filmmaker-actor (Emraan Hashmi), stung by the stunning success of Silk’s odd, soft-core stuff. He’s an honest director. His producer’s a practical man. There is honesty in the porn type material the producer peddles as well. It’s unlikely to garner critical acclaim, of course. No male reviewer will recommend a movie because it gave him a hard-on. Female critic will probably sense exploitation. Silk couldn’t care less. She collects only photos of hers that appear in the press.

Her journey to infamy involves a mix of circumstance, coincidence, and her own resilience, as is true for all success stories. In short: she lands up on a film set. Movie urgently needs a back-up dancer. Second-unit director goes nuts shooting her curvy figure. Main director (Hashmi) throws the song away. Producer finds it after the film’s bombed on day one, adds it in. She gets noticed, becomes a star of sorts: lonely, reckless, focused, ambitious. She loses her mind, as many do, only when she begins to take her own myths too seriously.

‘Fem-jep’ (female in jeopardy) is a popular American film genre. Where the heroine goes through man-hell throughout, and supposedly sympathetic male audiences, psychologists suspect, secretly enjoy this without feeling any guilt! Madhur Bhandarkar is the patron saint of this genre in Hindi pics (Chandni Bar, Fashion etc). This is not one of those movies. Silk pretty much deserves what she gets.

How much of this belongs to the suicidal southern phenomenon Silk Smitha, whose life this film is apparently based on, it’s hard to tell. Bharati Pradhan, a veteran film journalist who’d interviewed Smitha before, says the character comes quite close. We spoke at the interval. The difference between Silk in this movie and, say, a Mallika Sherawat or Mamta Kulkarni in real life, is that after tasting moderate success from below-the-radar semi sleaze, most attempt to gentrify themselves through the mainstream: convert infamy into lady-like fame. Silk did not.

She seeks no respect, attaches herself to a top actor, remains protected from other leeches. This is true for so many Indian heroines. Only repressed middle classes pick up glossies to marvel at promiscuous sex lives of filmies. The show-world is what it is.

Anju Mahindru plays a gossip mag editor, chronicling bedrooms of the movie industry. We’re supposed to be in Madras. The location is obviously fuzzy. The time line’s not. It is the ‘80s, and it could well be Bollywood. The vocabulary, 'tuning' (euphemism for getting it on), 'baby' (for the heroine), are so ‘Bollywood’ from the time.

Movies survive on songs shot with earthen pots and hip-shakes (matkas, jhatkas). The track, Ooh la la is so Jeetendra’s Mawali (1983), you want to instantly move to it, in your own dream sequence, as Jack and Jill roll down the hill, oranges fall on the female bosom. Clearly the filmmakers have grown up on these drugs. Memories from adolescence make for purest inspirations. We remember these films now as if they were from another planet. It’s endearing. Societies that leapfrog within a couple of decades find their ancient history too soon.

The film however, even when not mimicking its subject, somewhat retains its ‘80s feel: excessive dialoguebaazi, often loaded with double entendres, some loud scenes with actors always in a state of emergency, and the “serial kisser” (Emraan Hashmi) who must land a Sufi song, and a girl’s lips to satisfy his core audiences. Sometimes we remain suspended too much in disbelief. It starts to match the film within the film! This irony is oddly intriguing. It won’t be lost on anyone.

Meanwhile, the sexy, sexagenarian hero, “one lakh a day, one-take artiste” Smashing Surya (Naseeruddin Shah, hilarious) with black spongebob on his head plays a college boy. He looks for three vital elements in a script: sister, rape, revenge. The well-meaning actor-director (Hashmi) is frustrated still.

Just a few smart male actors can completely change the face of a commercial, star-driven film industry. Looking at the one playing the female protagonist here, Vidya Balan – Paa, Ishqiya, No One Killed Jessica, and this – it appears, that change could well originate from the leading lady instead. This is Balan’s, or for that matter any contemporary Bollywood heroine's, ballsiest role so far.

Though Conrad Hilton didn’t put it this way, Silk (or Balan) concludes – There are three things you need for a successful film: entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. Over here, “I am the entertainment.” She is absolutely right, beyond first-rate.

dirtypictureposter.jpg