The Dirty Picture, Vidya Balan

★★★★☆
<Review by: Tushar A Amin>

Directed by Milan Luthria. Starring Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi, Tusshar Kapoor.

The Dirty Picture is a tribute to Indian films’ unofficial decade of ‘cheese and corn’. Vidya Balan gets into the skin of an 80′s sex symbol to deliver a performance of a lifetime.

Releasing on what could have been the 51st birthday of Silk Smitha (who passed away in 1996), The Dirty Picture comes as a worthy homage, not just to the original sex siren but also to the 80′s, an era in Indian films ruled by formulaic rape-revenge potboilers, cheesy dialogue, corny characters, titillating songs and OTT banality. In a creatively bankrupt decade when Bollywood went South, the South was going Silk. And it is this Silk Smitha who forms the inspiration for Vidya Balan’s bold, unabashed portrayal of Reshma a.k.a. Silk in Milan Luthra’s celebration of Indian cinema’s signature brand of on-screen titillation and our collective hypocrisy.

The Dirty Picture traces the life trajectory of Reshma from a runaway village girl dreaming of film glitz to her rise as sex symbol, Silk, to her eventual tragic end. Vidya plays the spunky Reshma, unapologetic of her sensuality and unafraid of expressing it, with grand abandon. Reshma makes up for her plain Jane looks with her oodles of confidence and absolute lack of inhibitions. It is this lack of inhibitions (and the promise of 501 ‘tunings’) that wins her the lecherous attention of the ruling superstar Suryakant (Naseeruddin Shah) as well as the ire of the conceited filmmaker Abraham (Emraan Hashmi). Suryakant exploits her physically and transforms a girl rejected even for the role of an extra into Silk, the ultimate, in-your-face sex symbol. The latter waits in the wings plotting her downfall.

Silk gains popularity but at the cost of acceptance and respect. While her movies become money-spinners, she is labeled as cheap and vulgar, and treated as an outcast, not just by society but also by the film industry. Silk chooses not to give a damn and even provokes her detractors with her devil may care antics. Her life takes a downward turn when the wall she has built around herself crumbles. Her mother shuts the door on her and Silk realises her place in Suryakant’s scheme of things. Not one to give in, she lures Suryakant’s writer brother Ramakant (Tusshar Kapoor). Ramakant too uses Silk and abandons her when she refuses to change her behaviour. She takes to drinking and her career also takes a downturn. Down but not out, Silk decides to produce a film which is similar in theme to Abraham’s commercial film. The film flops leaving Silk in debt pushing her into desperation and ultimately depression. By the time Abraham realises he loves her and tries to save her, it is too late.

The Dirty Picture is Vidya Balan’s film all the way. She breathes life into the central character lending it both unfettered flamboyance and deep vulnerability, raw sensuality as well as dignified grace. Vidya displays a complete ownership of the character, whether she is playing a tease to Naseeruddin Shah’s egomaniacal superstar, aware that she is being exploited or taking on Abraham’s pseudo intellectual barbs. She carries no baggage of her quintessential girl-next-door image and mouths the sometimes raunchy, sometimes philosophical lines with absolute felicity. Naseeruddin Shah serves as the perfect foil, play a superstar and incorporating all the eccentricities, quirks and nuances he has shunned all his real life. The love-hate chemistry between Emraan Hashmi and Vidya Balan is crackling.

The kitschy art direction and voyeuristic cinematography help the film recreate the 80’s era, now fondly regarded as fountainhead of all Bollywood kitsch. While the acting department dazzles, it is the writing that emerges as a weak chink. At times sparkling, at times, plain crude and below-the-belt, often the dialogue seem planted for smart repartees and pop-psych platitudes. In ensuring that the film steers clear of the biopic territory and stays within commercial parameters, Milan Luthria (director) and Rajat Arora (writer) resort to the very corn-and-cheese mix they are supposed to be critiquing. The same also applies to cinematography with extended shots of Vidya sashaying in skimpy cleavage popping outfits and lounging in negligees. In a bid to portray an exploited character, the film ends up titillating. But then, I am not complaining. Let the Film and Gender Studies scholars and Feminists point that out.

This one is a must watch even if it is just for Vidya Balan, the bravest actor in Bollywood today.

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