Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Dirty Picture (द डर्टी पिक्चर)

Let's Come Together

I suppose it's not easy trying to make a bio-pic about a controversial actress that calls for some parading of skin due to various states of undress. In Singapore, the Rose Chan project has been stalled from its initial announcement, with one of the close contenders for the role dropping out and to date leaving the project quite in limbo. In what would is a generally conservative society, you can imagine the challenges faced by director Milan Luthria (of Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai fame) in making The Dirty Picture, a largely fictionalized biography film about one of the sex sirens of Indian Cinema known as Silk Smitha, who had made a staggering 450 films over a career spanning 17 years before her untimely demise at age 35.

The Dirty Picture chronicles the life and times of Silk Smitha (played by Vidya Balan) as seen through the eyes of her one time enemy and arthouse film director Abraham (Emraan Hashmi), her less than successful love life with directors and screenwriters, and in her desperation, willing to do just about anything for that shot at stardom, in an industry where fame is reserved only for a few, and chauvinistic too. In this version of her life written by Rajat Arora, Silk Smitha adopts her namesake thanks to a producer who sees the opportunity to set box office alight when he chanced upon the unused item number in Abraham's film, and from sultry dance numbers one after another, her role in films begin to expand, and so does her notoriety amongst the gossip rags, playing up her sex siren role to stratastrophic heights. I suppose you know when you're a star when audiences pay full ticket prices only to enter the hall to watch your item number, and leave soon after it ends.

My interest got piqued not only that this is a story of the rise and fall of a sex siren in a film industry, or the controversial scandals that go on behind the scenes, but truly stem from getting another chance to peek into how the industry might have worked previously in the 80s, in South Indian cinema. Om Shanti Om provided that glimpse into the 60s era, though this one offered a look at both mainstream and the adult based industry, although the latter was a little too short to make an impact in this film. The star system is obviously in full swing here where everything a superstar does get praised and sucked up to, and the reverse where junior artistes get the flak for everything else is the norm. Favours are exchanged for opportunities, and soon Silk becomes the mistress of megastar Suryakant (Naseeruddin Shah) who carries out their affair on set behind the back of his wife.

Director Milan Luthria crafted a very charming film that doesn't border on the exploitative, even though the film's main subject matter is precisely that, presenting just how cutthroat the film industry is, where enemies can become friends and vice versa, and just how fame is such a fleeting issue one can get forgotten fairly easily and fade away just as fast as one enters the scene with a big bang. There's an excellent balance in drama, comedy and of course the need to highlight just how far Silk dares to go against industry norms and shock and awe audiences and crew with her boldness, and the pace is kept to a breeze, forgoing most of Silk's earlier, non-acting life to kickstart where it started to matter.

And clearly the star of the show is the heroine, Vidya Balan, as she takes on what would be her most challenging role to date, making herself believable as a sex siren with no qualms in dressing to the nines in figure hugging outfits, piling on the kilos to look the part of the South Indian actress, and spouting lines of dialogue filled with endless sexual innuendoes, not to forget constantly giving that come hither look. In some way Luthria managed to steer clear of being vulgar, and his Silk came across as more sensual and seductive, rather than downright crass, giving you reason to believe just why hundreds of thousands worship the new female film idol who's taking the industry by storm. Balan deserves every single accolade that will come due to this role, as she provides both that steely exterior that defies the odds, and that vulnerable interior self who is out of luck when it comes to matters of the heart, making you sympathize with Silk every step of the way.

Naseeruddin Shah also excelled as the prima-donna superstar actor Suryakant, a Casanova of the industry who soon establishes an affair with the actress, and is every much the cad he is made out to be. Having co-starred with Balan in an earlier film last year in the acclaimed Ishqiya, they continue to share that chemistry on screen here, with Shah in top form as he hams it up in his role as the pampered acting star able to call on every whim and fancy. Tusshar Kapoor stars as his screenwriting brother Ramukant who takes over the romantic male lead midway when he romances Silk, and Emraan Hashmi's uncompromising arthouse director Abraham assumes the role of the enemy of the heroine inevitably turned friend and eventual lover, whose story arc resonates the constant struggle between a director's vision, to that of the producer's in wanting to guarantee box office returns.

With superb acting, magical musical numbers, a strong narrative storyline and a look into the exploitative films of the 80s era, The Dirty Picture plays on its much preached about mantra of entertainment, entertainment and entertainment, delivering what it had promised, and at the same time making it thought provocative, teasing you to find out a lot more of the real Silk Smitha and the films and era that she had crafted in her heyday. Definitely highly recommended!

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