Thursday, 12 January 2012

Movie Review: The Dirty Picture

By now, most of you would have already seen this movie, or would have read reams and reams about it. I will be able to say very little about it that’s new. Still, I think it’s worthy of being my first official (read non-Facebook/Twitter) movie review. Why? Because it emerged as the Hindi film industry’s strongest, most hard-hitting FUN film of 2011. No One Killed Jessica and Shaitan were good but not exactly fun entertainers. The other good films of 2011 – Delhi Belly, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – were good in a different way, not gut-wrenching. Stanley Ka Dabba was bittersweet and lovely but lacked punch.

The other reason for bestowing this honour on TDP was Vidya Balan. What a brave, brave move by someone whom the industry and audiences had not exactly loved. Few female actors in Bollywood would have dared to look so unattractive on screen. She has single-handedly raised the bar for giving one’s all to the role and really going for gold in a film that reached for the stars but somehow, fell short. Major overarching flaw – too many concessions to “Bollywood”. For one, there was nothing Tam about it (barring the token gajras in all the women’s hair) so it really could have been set in any other city, or should have been made in Tamil or English, if Madras was so essential to the story. Secondly, I find it difficult to believe that women in Madras could run around on the street wearing next to nothing, and no one said a word. That too, thirty years ago.

But let’s get back to plot. Loosely taking elements from the life of soft-porn star Silk Smitha (though producer Ekta Kapoor claims the film is not based on her and is more about the industry and the times), the film follows Reshma, a village girl with stars in her eyes. She makes it to Madras (though it is unclear what she does for a living while going for auditions). Through sheer perseverance, she manages to get a toe-hold in the film industry and suddenly, a star is born. She is groomed, plucked, styled, faired up, and presented to the world as Silk, a name chosen for her by producer and Reshma’s mentor, Selva Ganesh a.k.a. Keeda Das (Rajesh Sharma, absolutely fantastic). She proceeds to take the industry and audiences by storm, with fans and foes in equal measure. There’s eighties’ cinema in all its gaudy glory and it’s so much fun! Ooh La La is an absolute treat and Vidya revels in the OTTness of it all.

Silk gets involved with married superstar Suryakanth (Naseer, brilliant as always), but soon realizes that for him, as for most other people around, she’s fun to be in bed with, but not appropriate to be seen with. From the object of everyone’s lust on screen, she is reduced to hiding for hours in Suryakanth’s bathroom when his wife returns home unexpectedly. She then embarks on an affair with Surya’s younger brother Ramakanth (Tusshar Kapoor, in the only weak performance in the film) but he is no match for her and the relationship never quite takes off. Watch the scene where she uses an awards ceremony as a platform to lash out at the hypocrisy of a world in which directors, producers, writers, and male actors of “sexy” films are lauded, but the female lead is ridiculed, judged as loose-moralled, a “dirty secret” unfit for polite company. It is an incredible scene and Vidya makes you want to roar your support for her (I confess, I clapped in the movie theatre). And this is just at interval, making the viewer think there’s more awesomeness in store. And there is, but not quite as punchy. The second half loses steam, when Silk’s downfall results in her making a friend of the one person who’s hated her guts all this while – director Abraham (Emraan Hashmi, competent and pleasant) who believes film is an intellectual art and people like Silk make it cheap and tawdry. It’s an interesting equation the two share, but it drags on for too long, even giving Emraan some token hero time with the song Ishq Sufiana (lovely, but completely irrelevant and inappropriate here). Silk, meanwhile, has let fame go to her head and become completely full of herself, resulting an odd, but entirely believable mix of brash arrogance, unprofessional behaviour, and vulnerability. Her smoking and drinking are by now completely out of control and suddenly, producers and directors don’t want her anymore, preferring new and upcoming star, Shakeela (shown as a trim, fit, sleek girl in a minidress and high boots – yet another concession to Bollywood that I have a problem with).

From struggle to success to complete and utter disgrace, the film follows Silk through it all, and gives us a character worth rooting for, despite, or maybe because of, her flaws. She is human, the film reminds us. And she makes us question our views with every thrust of her heaving bosom.

Will this movie be the game-changer for woman-oriented films to really become big in Bollywood? I don’t know. All I know is that for days after I watched it, I could not get it out of my head. That, for me, is a true measure of its worth.


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