Well, I have been ignoring it for 3 years now, but I am finally going to have a little delve into Bollywood proper now. To be frank, it is not a cinema that I have ever felt the urge to explore too deeply – on the whole the films are usually too long for my attention span, and those that I have browsed always feel the urge to leap into a song and dance number far too often. I don’t mind a nice song and dance occasionally, but not in every film and genre. However, this one caught my eye, as it seemed to have been reviewed positively, it was telling a story I found to be interesting, and was taking it’s cues from one of my favourite movies of all time – “Boogie Nights”
“The Dirty Picture” is a very loose bio-pic (more inspired by rather than a slavish retelling) of South Indian Actress ‘Silk’ Smitha. It tells the rise and eventually tragic fall of Reshma (Vidya Balan). An ordinary “girl-next-door” in terms of looks, she runs away to Madras in an attempt to break into the movie industry. Her initial attempts are dismissed and cut from Director Abraham’s (Emraan Hasmi) film, but upon the films failure, the Producer sees the cutting room for footage and sees a goldmine. You see Reshma has that undefinable ‘sex-appeal’ on screen, which will bring men rushing through the doors of the cinema. Re-christened “Silk”, she embarks on a popular B-Movie film career, on the way creating a powerful and dirty/sexy persona. The film follows her many affairs with actors and Directors, and the way her personality changes. Then events lead to her popularity waning, and despite an unlikely final relationship, Silk eventually takes her own life (I don’t think that is too spoilerific).
That was unexpected. I really enjoyed this film. Sure it is easily 30 minutes too long, but I found the story to be fascinating and compelling. It helped that really this story is a universal one – this could be the tale of any film starlet in any film industry (Marilyn Munroe anyone?) – she is propelled to stardom, but however powerful and in control she thinks she is, there are always then Men behind the scenes that can bring her crashing back down. The reality is that her sexual allure lets her go only so far. Universal story or not, it is also interesting to see a very different film industry in a very different time (the 1980’s), there is much to both contrast and draw similarities to.
The Director has spoken about the “Boogie Nights” influence – but think of this more in the themes in the fore and background. Yes, she is a B-Movie actress, and her main asset is sexual, but these are not skin flicks – in a conservative country like India it is more about little doses of flesh, come hither eyes, a dirty smile, and mostly her rather brazen way of speaking.
It is delightfully funny, and most of the great lines are spoken by Vidya Balan herself, who carries the picture brilliantly. It seems she has had to change her physical size a fair amount for this role, but she carries it off, embodying exactly the kind of character she is charged to play. She is also exceptional in some of the quieter moments – her disappointment of being cut from the first film, and in a number of conversations with Abraham in the final third of the film (leading to the only real reciprocal romance in the film, where is is a meeting of minds, not of desire and ambition), she shows that Silk is not just a aggressive and brazen woman – rather she has been playing a role, one forced and expected of her, but that underneath there is the charming and downtrodden Reshma.
There is plenty of singing and dancing, but as the conceit of the movie is to show her acting in films, it rather cleverly makes this feel rather more natural and not really out of place.. And to be fair, some of the tunes are catchy, and the dance numbers are pleasing on the eye. I was not at all inclined to fast forward through these set pieces, as they really felt rather necessary to the story being told.
As I mentioned in the synopsis, this is not strictly a bio-pic. It is certainly influenced by Silk’s real life, with certain key moments and sequences taken from her story. It also varies significantly, with the event that drives her to take her own life being a little more seedy, and indeed her method of suicide something more peaceful. But it also draws on other characters, and I think this decision not to slavishly follow someone’s life works here. It is respectful to the source, but also means the story can work better dramatically, allowing some themes to work the way through the story.
So in conclusion – despite my reticence, I have a great time with this movie. It was fun and engrossing, and made me want to dig a little deeper into the story it was telling. Above all, it is performed with a lot of respect for the tragic story that influenced it, with no small amount of heart. And that dear reader, as you know, always gets a film here the Highly Recommended seal of ThingsFallApart approval!