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Friday, December 2, 2011


(Published in The New Sunday Express on 4 December, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/the-dirty-picture/339528.html)



Cast: Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi, Tusshar Kapoor

Director: Milan Luthria

Rating: 3.5 stars

It’s rather ridiculous that a film so obviously based on the life of Silk Smitha, and with a main character of the same name should declare that “any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is unintended and coincidental”. And within a few frames, the viewer is distracted by the mish-mash of languages. Did the film have to be so faithful to the tale of a tragic heroine-wannabe that it had to become a Hindi-language film based in 1980s Madras, rather than a Hindi film based in 1970s Bombay? The clothes, the posters, the names – well, most – are Tamil, and yet the dialogues are in Mumbaiyya Hindi.

Once you get past the incongruity, though, the film follows the mantra Reshma-turned-Silk (Vidya Balan) pouts out, that there are only three factors that go into the success of films – entertainment, entertainment, and entertainment. Most of the gali­­-riddled, wordplay-based dialogues are funny. Suryakanth (Naseeruddin Shah), who seems to be some sort of Southern hybrid with Rajni’s punch lines and Kamal’s slow drawl, smirks that a heroine’s life is like an elected government – who knows what will happen after five years? Silk’s provocative metaphors are winsome. And the speeches are well-written up until the interval. In the second half, though, they bend towards pop philosophy, and got sarcastic applause in the movie hall.

We all know the plot – the rapid rise and desperate decline of a sex kitten. Vidya Balan has Silk Smitha’s body language down to a ‘t’, but it’s hard to reconcile her with the siren. The vulnerability is too obvious on her face, and the oozing sensual symbolism that seemed natural on Silk Smitha doesn’t sit too well on Vidya Balan. As she moans and writhes, the women in the audience are tempted to draw their clothes a little tighter around themselves and the men fidget uncomfortably.

But there is very little more Vidya Balan could have done. She acts with passion; the delight on her face is obvious when she sees men from the first rows throwing coins at the screen and rushing up to dance as her first item number breaks out. The excitement, hauteur, epiphany, fatigue and despair in her life cycle are portrayed as distinct phases, and yet flow smoothly from one to the next.

The consistency in the character is missing at times. Silk goes to a race course and snaps at Ramakant (Tusshar Kapoor) when he expresses surprise at her presence there. “Why, should only people who speak English turn up?” she demands. But minutes later, she eggs on a horse she has bet on with “Come on! Faster!” She says with charming naïveté that she never reads articles about herself, only cuts out the pictures. But then, she’s suddenly flipping through English articles quickly, weeping and setting them on fire after absorbing their import. At times, it’s obvious she’s out of her comfort zone. That would not have been amiss if it had been built into the character – if she had been shown wearing saris and dhaavanis at home; but Silk switches to skimpy clothes once she becomes a star. And it seems Vidya Balan’s not too easy about that.

The major drawback in the movie is that the filmmakers don’t seem to have zeroed in on what cut Silk to the quick. Why would someone who celebrates the power her sexuality has over men and shrugs off calumny be horrified at being referred to as Draupadi, for having affairs with brothers? And why is the screenplay injected with feminist asides? The real Silk Smitha said in interviews that heroines got to keep their costumes, whereas she had to return hers. She hoped that the critical acclaim she won for the few ‘character roles’ she did would allow her to segue into serious cinema. But in The Dirty Picture, Silk seems less concerned about the lack of trust in her acting abilities than the lack of respect for her off-screen persona.

There are times when the film alludes to this, but the show vs. tell factor is underutilised. The few scenes where it’s brought in – one in the bedroom, and one in the climax – are powerful, and one wonders if it wouldn’t have been a far better movie if it had exploited that option. While Silk’s downward spiral is portrayed well, its cause isn’t established. It takes a lot to crush the spirit of a woman who clings on to the tiniest hope, a woman who purrs, “Tumne mujhe  choti size ki battery samajh liya kya? Main transformer hoon.” And she always has straws to clutch.

The Dirty Picture has some formidable acting performances, Vidya Balan’s included. Naseeruddin Shah has a blast playing Smashing Surya and being ‘Raanga Cowboy’. Emraan Hashmi’s understated acting makes his character convincing, and he has little trouble letting his contempt grow into intrigue, admiration and fondness. The same can’t be said of Tusshar Kapoor, whose character fluctuates rather wildly.

Verdict: Definitely worth a watch. Even when it’s implausible, which is not often, it’s quite gripping.

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