I watched The Dirty Picture sitting in the rear stall of Roxy Cinema amongst a raunchy, unsophisticated crowd whistling suggestively at every drop of the pallu and every hard-hitting dialogue! The 80s were exuberantly revived in the theatre as well as a marvellously uninhibited Vidya Balan bosom-thrust the narrative forward in a believably recreated well-known and often disparaged cinematic garishness of that decade. I was too small to have been to the theatre in the 80s; my first-hand experiences of the cinema hall had begun after the mid-90s, when multiplex comfort could not be even dreamt of. In the 80s, till the late 90s in fact, the educated middle class, especially Bengalis, had strong reservations against Hindi cinema, its mindless violence, titillating choreography and awfully ear-splitting cacophonies that posed as songs. Silk Smitha, the Southern siren, was as tabooed as pornography, or perhaps a moral sin! In fact, I clearly remember I was not allowed to see an otherwise ‘clean’ Sadma on Doordarshan, simply because of Silk Smitha’s erotic cameo! I guess more than the issue of clothes or rather the lack of it, Silk Smitha posed a major threat to the bourgeois hypocrisy about sexuality and sexual desire, by her totally no-holds-barred gestures and parade of socially ‘hidden’ body parts. The Dirty Picture self-reflexively satirizes this moral pretension by exposing the bawdy reality that lies underneath.
The most interesting aspect of the film is the format: reviving the 80s format to tell a 80s story is rather commendable. The sets, the costumes, the choreography, the songs, and the dialogues are all moving intertexts of what we have seen in the 1980s blockbusters. The dialogue gets as cheesy as Bahuton ne touch kiya hai, lekin kisi ne chhuya nahi, yet is so compellingly appropriated by the over-the-top narrative that you really feel drawn in. Vidya Balan makes it all sound and appear so convincing, as she almost effortlessly moves from cleavage-revealing, navel-flaunting raunchiness to sentimental vulnerability.
The film is commendable because it deconstructs what it seeks to construct almost in the same breath: while cashing-in on the female body as the most marketable commodity, it turns upon itself to satirize the practice with credibility you can’t help marvelling at. However, the film is rather weak in several points: especially, Silk’s acceptance speech at the awards function stand out like a sore thumb. The second-half of the film sufficiently loses the punch of the first, for Silk’s downfall is much too drastic and somewhat unexplained. Yet, what is interesting is that, the film could make appear the downfall tragic rather than engaging in moral judgement. But again, despite her boldness and unpretentiousness, Silk somewhat disappoints in death. Why that red sari and the vermillion? I mean the bridal makeup? She could have thrown conventional desires to the wind in the end as well! The film had not prepared us for this.
If not for anything else, watch the film for Vidya Balan: she has cautiously toed the line between the vulgar and the sexy, mouthed the mushy sentimental lines with tremendous credibility, and moved from the compulsively naughty to the lovingly vulnerable with so much sincerity that you can’t help ask yourself whether she is the same demure Lalitha. Naseeruddin Shah has given lechery a new meaning altogether. Emran Hashmi has definitely improved as an actor. But Tusshar is an eyesore! Had he not been there!
Well ‘dirtiness’ gets a makeover in this Milan Lutharia venture: remember it is not a biopic of sorts. It is perhaps the story of several so-called B-grade female actors who rise and fall without perhaps making any difference to the industry, but whose stories need to be told.