There is a scene in The Dirty Picture when Reshma urf Silk tells her bête noire director Abraham that movies sell only because of three reasons - ‘Entertainment, Entertainment and Entertainment’. It is a dialogue that probably symbolizes what director Milan Luthria has in mind when he creates this supposed biopic that would have unraveled the phenomenon called ‘Silk Smitha’.
The Dirty Picture is supposed to be India’s answer to Boogie Nights (atleast that’s what Ekta Kapoor would like us to believe) but it limits itself to Silk's ascent. The movie invests in entertainment – it has loads of punch lines which ensures that every minute the audience has something to holler about and Vidya Balan has the chutzpah to carry out the role with aplomb. But beyond the entertainment, it fails to create an emotional connect to the character – her tragedy is a private one (just like in real life) and it’s a pity that while the director takes interest to show her rise to the top, he is not too keen to help us understand the decline. It’s a bumpy fall that happens suddenly and no explanations are sought – the audience is expected to understand that what goes up comes down one day.
The difficulty of making a movie that speaks in one language and telling a story in another creates an identity crisis. It’s worth wondering whether the movie had to be based in Tamil Nadu when the only thing that seemed Tamil were the posters, hoardings, costumes of the supporting cast and junior artists while all the main characters seemed to revel comfortably in Hindi (the way names like Muthu and Selvaganesh are pronounced is annoying).The movie speaks in Hindi (and I don’t mean the dialogues) and exudes the language in all references which are divorced from the realities of what you see on the screen.
Since a decision was made to base it in the South, the movie attempts to create the the Tamil tinsel world of the 80s. But Milan is not interested in depicting reality; you see it is entertainment that he is after. So, what emerges is essentially Bollywood cloaked in the guise of Tamil cinema and the result is a mishmash that purely entertains. Stereotypes abound and caricatures role the roost but Silk is an exception; she sounds impeccable even in English despite her not so urbane background. Suryakanth (Naseeruddin Shah) is an aging superstar with numerous amorous escapades who looks like a wannabe Quick Gun Murugan and fits to the T perceptions of superstars from the south (Exactly the same issue that I had in the buffoonish depiction of the principal in The 3 Idiots).
Since the movie would be seen primarily by an audience not familiar with the backdrop, it may not matter as a whole. But I’m amused when someone in the audience finds ‘Selvaganesh’ a funny name while someone else thinks that the hero is modeled on Rajinikanth (for no apparent reason but his gun fighting scene). When you have painted all these men as caricatures whom the audience would love to mock at, is there any possibility of objectively analyzing Silk’s actions?
There is no way you can root for any other character and the director is clear that Silk and Silk alone matters in the movie, at the expense of others. When she launches into a tirade against the hypocrisy of people in a stage function, she is suddenly thrust into the role of an embodiment of a heroic woman who takes on the entire industry, which sits uneasily on her. Being brash and street smart maybe, but as a symbol of a victimized woman, it does not cut ice.
In a first half that encapsulates the rise of a plain but ambitious Jane into a starlet with an attitude that borders on arrogance, Vidya pulls of a casting coup and makes us want to believe that Silk actually traversed this path as she rode to the top. In a well-crafted scene, where the audience troops into the theatre just for her song and leaves the hall immediately afterwards, she realizes the hold that she could have on a sex-starved audience (this is immediately after the star Suryakanth tells her that the crowds only care for him and she has no relevance at all). She is gung-ho of her ability to draw audiences to the theatre by her asset display but at the same time realizes that being an actress is just a dream that is beyond her.
The potentially most interesting phase could have been between Silk and the avant garde director Abraham who detests her as somebody who represents everything that is wrong with commercial cinema. But their interaction is fleeting and while the chemistry works we do not know how the transformation happened? Where did the love angle come in suddenly? Is it when Abraham realizes that his cinema never connected to the masses (‘Mein apni hi picture dekhte so gaya') and compromises or was it just an after- thought that emerged when the director realized that Emraan’s character was going nowhere? It was an opportunity to explore this connect between these two persons who worked in two different spectrums of cinema and are separated by social and class perceptions of good and bad but sadly, this thread is left hanging.
The below-the-belt humour is funny but I was tired by the number of over written one-liners inserted in the plot. Why was it necessary to throw in a punch line every time a character spoke; can’t you have people talking normally, without always wanting to suggest something voyeuristic? Being subtle is clearly not the writer’s strength but there is a limit – was every alternate line in the script written in Comic Sans Font Bold and Underlined 36 Size font so that the audience understands that they are watching a Dirty Picture?
Vidya Balan puts in a brave performance that will win her awards (breaking stereotypical roles = winning awards) but the limitations of the script limit the scope of the performance. She learns the lessons of the trade quickly enough and leverages her abilities to the maximum – witness the brazen usage of her sexual power as she stalls the traffic at a journalist’s party. She’s Erin Brockovich magnified in the first half who loses steam after some time because she has nothing more to add; as she spirals rapidly downward (very rapidly in the movie), we are unable to empathize with her character. The cleavage and the boobage are there for people to leer at often (thankfully without being vulgar) but the soul of the performer is missing.
Yes, there are hints of financial problems, competition from other vamps and even other heroines but we are unable to sense the insecurity that she feels. Why does she torpedo a perfectly going life for no apparent reason? We do not invest in her emotionally, especially in the second half, to connect to her demise and so when the end comes, I’m busy looking at my watch rather nonplussed at the death. We know her as a brash uninhibited starlet who is not prone to strategizing but we don’t know her as a person; her fears, her turmoil, her loneliness and the things that would help us understand better are set aside to depict only an external manifestation of her problems.
The tragic life of Silk Smitha needed more attention but just as her screen presence was limited to only the fleeting lust value she gave in a movie, the movie merely skims over her true self. While people discreetly watch scenes that border on titillation (and we are not talking of men alone), we refuse to acknowledge it but are quick to paint these women as loose characters who have no place in our civilized society. Those who exhibit themselves to the audience are sluts but we are ‘honourable’ because we enjoy these only in the darkness. Well, this movie is about ‘entertainment’ and Silk as an entertainment object only, so the tragedy is lost somewhere deep inside..