The Not-so-Dirty Picture

In Dirty Picture, there’s meticulous attention paid to recreate the feel of Mumbai with Hindi film posters, Bollywood dance choreography, low-cut cholis etc., but… all the speaking parts and even some of the songs are in English. Except for one. Say ‘Chamma Chamma’!

Think that would make for a credible biopic set in the Eighties? Yes, Milan Luthria may not be our Danny Boyle. But The Dirty Picture is just as out of place in Madras as a  Scarlett Johanson film in Mumbai. All the posters and a lot of the production design are in Tamil, but the songs and speaking parts are in Hindi. The only Tamil song used is the jingle-savvy ‘Nakku Mukka’, which is anything but representative of the Eighties. And this fish-out-of-water feel of this biopic considerably waters down the impact. We are never able to take this film seriously beyond what the title promises. A dirty picture. That too, almost.

Vidya Balan performs with an attitude that Scarlett may never be capable of. This is the single-most boldest performance by a woman in the history of Indian cinema not because of the reels of cleavage, in almost every frame in fact, but because of the large frame she flaunts and carries off on screen in an age where heroines are called fat if they cannot maintain a size zero figure. Vidya apparently put on 12 kilos for this film and they all show. It needs some amount of guts and sass to pull it off and she sizzles in this role tailor-made to show off her acting chops.

Like she says, “Films run only because of one reason: Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. And I am entertainment,” this is a film that will truly run because Vidya Balan is entertainment. She wears slutty clothes, makes dirty noises, pouts out horny faces, dances with thunder thighs and delivers some great old-fashioned dialoguebaazi, speaking mostly in punch-lines. She makes it impossible for you to take your eyes off the screen even when things get predictable in the latter part of the film.

The makers (Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Arora) seem a little too afraid to get into the darker aspects of the tragic life of a star like Silk and most of the sadness is limited to showing the dark circles under her eyes. Even when her life is spiralling down, the film wants to go away from the tragedy and show you a love song. Clearly, they don’t want to depress you because depressing films don’t do well at the box office.

However, The Dirty Picture makes up for lack of depth with spirit and attitude.

It is commendable that there’s no attempt to make a dirty picture look too clean or classy. Milan stays loyal to the genre and makes sure the frontbenchers get all the titillation. This is about bringing the subaltern into the mainstream and giving that genre and the women fronting that cinema their due. And that grand statement of the film comes a tad too early — at the halfway point. When Silk goes to pick up her award and calls the film industry’s bluff. “I am your dirty little secret,” she says.

She truly believes that what she does is ahead of her time and would one day be seen as a revolution against the male-driven film business.

For all that talk of feminism, the film regresses a little towards the latter part when it strays into Madhur Bhandarkar territory when a broke heroine of dirty films has to resort to porn to save her house. And with that one scene, by depicting pornography as an evil compromise she must do, The Dirty Picture draws its moral line between the mainstream and the subaltern. All the good work is undone because we are told dirty pictures are OK for a woman of spirit, but soft-porn… No, too low? Talk about hypocrisy.

If this film proves anything at all, it is this. We haven’t lost our appetite for dirty pictures. We are a country of voyeurs. And poor Silk Smitha continues to be exploited even after her death.

For, barring her screen name, this picture has nothing to do with her story.

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