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Film Review: The Dirty Picture

Film Review: The Dirty Picture

December 03, 2011

The only way to sum up the film: Ooh La La!

When the serious art-house filmmaker Abraham (Emraan Hashmi) makes it clear that he despises the gutsy rising star Silk (Vidya Balan), she retorts confidently: "You need three things for a successful film - entertainment, entertainment, entertainment...I am the entertainment." A wink, a mischievous smile, a well-timed pelvic thrust, and a slight lean over to show just enough cleavage. Silk uses all this and more to get what she's always wanted: fame. She runs away from home in a remote village the night before her wedding to Madras (Chennai) and ends up as the most desired star of South Indian films. Director Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Arora's The Dirty Picture is a thrilling ride, unapologetic yet never vulgar, into the life of Silk Smitha, a woman who reached dizzying heights of fame by banking on the one thing everyone wanted from her: sex.

What seems at the surface to be yet another film about the rise and fall of a star, strides seductively beyond that. It's the star in question here that makes all the difference. Balan's Silk is feisty, bold, confident yet keenly aware of and concerned with what others think of her. She just puts on the oomph and pretends not to care. Throw such a character into the cheesy, sleazy and garish world of 1980s Indian films - perhaps the most embarrassing decade for cinema - and the film takes a life of its own.

Luthria and Arora dive right into the eccentricities of the 1980s with relish. There's the superstar hero Suryakant (Naseeruddin Shah), worshipped by his fans long enough to have the most bloated ego in the business. When a nervous Silk messes up on her very first shoot with the star she's grown up lusting for, he angrily dismisses her, asking what makes her so special. "I've tuned 500 women before you," he boastfully adds. She inches closer and questions softly, “But have you tuned the same woman 500 times?” The writing, which would easily have veered into the realm of vulgarity, is kept sharp, edgy and most of all, fun. Arora fills the script with such tantalizing punchlines one after another, and the actors seem to be having so much fun saying them. The dialogues are saucy, designed to amuse and shock in equal parts.

Another strength of the script is that it doesn't just hover around the superficial. Luthria and Arora make one big, valid point. As a hardened star in the unpredictably vicious world of films, Silk uses her award felicitation to shame the entire film industry in one fell swoop. Brimming with anger, she points out the double standards of an industry that craves for sex and the shameless objectification of women in front of the camera or behind closed doors, but shuns it in the public eye. It's the same industry that is minting money off her body and sexuality but refuses to give her social ranking or respect in the hierarchy. The sleaze-mongers of the film industry aside, the film also makes it clear that Silk was never a victim. She was conscious of her decisions and steered her life the way she did, until she lost control of it and her stardom began to fade.

The makers of The Dirty Picture, producer Ekta Kapoor included, take interesting potshots at a whole range of character types. There's the resented but influential film critic Nayla, who makes a living by slamming Silk's career moves. In one scene, renowned producer Selva Ganesh (Rajesh Sharma) is actually pleased when Nayla rips his film to shreds in her review, saying: "If the critics hate my film that means I'll be making a lot of money." Constant jabs at film critics aside (ahem, we'll let it go this time), the art-house filmmaker Abraham also becomes a statement of sorts. His films might be popular at film festivals all over the world, but they screen to empty theaters in India. So, realizing the error of his ways, and desperate to take down Silk, he gives up on his cinema and embraces shameless masala as well.

Other film types aren't spared either, from the over-hyped superstar to the spineless directors bowing to the superstar. Or just how randomly plot lines for masala films are developed: "Give the hero a family, give him a sister. Give the sister dignity. And then take her dignity away," rattles off Suryakant to his shy brother and budding scriptwriter Ramakant (Tusshar Kapoor). Everyone is wowed by the storyline, applauding and calling Suryakant a genius.And you applaud Naseeruddin Shah for delivering such a brilliant performance as Suryakant, in a way no one else could have.

The film suffers in the second half, a curse of many Hindi film scripts. A scintillatingly enjoyable first half - Silk's rise to fame - isn't matched by what could have been just as gripping a second half - her decline. Instead, the track with Tusshar Kapoor slows down the pace and the shift in the relationship between Silk and Abraham seems abrupt, as if only to accommodate the sappy romantic song. However, Balan handles the arc of the character beautifully, both physically and emotionally. Neither she nor Luthria shy away from showing the protagonist as a filled out, voluptuous woman, with "thunder thighs" and "love handles" in full view. It's jarring, only because we're so used to size zero women flitting around on screen these days.

The music remains average barring the addictive 'Ooh La La.' The song that has most impact, however, is the Tamil song 'Nakka Mukka.' It essentially becomes the anthem to Silk's raunchy rise to stardom and is the one song that sticks after the film is over.

The Dirty Picture will be remembered for one thing that towers above all else (and the film is impressive on several accounts). Vidya Balan's performance as Silk is quite simply one of the bravest, most confident, and memorable we have witnessed in contemporary Hindi cinema. She dominates from start to finish and rises well above any inconsistencies in her characterization. Go watch The Dirty Picture to shamelessly experience the absurdities of the 1980s and witness one of the finest actresses of our time. Silk may have been the epitome of entertainment, but Balan proves that she epitomizes that and so much more. 


  • SJC
    18.01.12 09:41 PM
    its a great film, although the 2nd half lets it down a bit, and seems to lose focus. but its one of the best hindi films of the last year or so. if they edited it, im sure it could even do well on the arthouse circuit. and vidya balan is immense.
  • Pulkit
    02.01.12 10:32 AM
    Thanks all for the comments! Whether you agree or disagree with my review, it is definitely a film that has pushed the envelope for women's roles in Hindi cinema.
  • Sudeshna Das
    Sudeshna Das
    02.01.12 03:09 AM
    I loved the movie as well. Wonderful performance by Vidya Balan. The review was a treat to read, although I didn't like any of the songs in the movie, not even Ooh La La.
  • Writerzblock
    12.12.11 04:36 PM
    Finally saw this movie, and this line of yours kept ringing all the while 'The Dirty Picture is a thrilling ride, unapologetic yet never vulgar'. Very, very true,.
  • kedar
    06.12.11 12:33 PM
    hmm... Good review... Will consider watching it now!!
  • Jaimin Rajani
    Jaimin Rajani
    06.12.11 11:56 AM
    I'm sorry, but I'd beg to differ. The story-line and acting is absolutely sub-standard. I found Vidya Balan's acting to be unnatural and not at all up-to-the-mark - at least no where compared to that in Ishqiya, while Emraan Hashmi's role is too abrupt - extremely insignificant in the first half, while suddenly making him look like the hero by the end, just for the sake of doing so. I believe the pre-release promotion was overly done, which resulted in making most of the dialogues sound like platitudes. For me, the film was much below my expectations - a 2 out of 5.
  • pri
    06.12.11 10:55 AM
    great review...though im yet to watch the movie, ive heard similar things from a couple of friends.

    plan to watch it soon enough...
  • NNNiiiXXX
    06.12.11 09:10 AM
    100% agree with the review... The movie was exactly as it is described above... Well written Pulkit...
  • Keri
    06.12.11 09:01 AM
    Vidya Balan was absolutely amazing and deserves every award that she WILL win. I agree that the second half lagged a little, but not because of Vidya. She delivered the entire movie and made it well worth the time.
    06.12.11 08:27 AM
    this is the first good review ive read of he movie. provocative indeed.
  • Hindi Cinema Blog
    Hindi Cinema Blog
    06.12.11 02:34 AM
    Lovely review. I agree with your comments on the film's pace. In my review I added a little piece of trivia too :-)
    Pleasure reading yours!
    05.12.11 11:10 PM

    I love the lemmons rolling down the hill. That's all I am going to say.
  • Harsha
    05.12.11 10:12 PM
    That was a nice review. You have written it so well, crisp, engaging and explanative. I didn't watch the film, but promos do the talking about Vidya's amazing performance.
  • sujatha sathya
    sujatha sathya
    05.12.11 05:10 PM
    i watched it over the weekend & totally loved Vidya's performance & of course Naseer saab as the aging but macho hero
  • Akshay Kumar G
    Akshay Kumar G
    05.12.11 05:02 PM
    Brilliant review!
  • Nishita
    05.12.11 03:27 PM
    The movie got average reviews in the daily newspapers, but really I think I will like this one. And I love the Ooh La La song, it's so cheezy but still so addictive.

    Thanks for the review!
  • Megha Sarin
    Megha Sarin
    05.12.11 02:13 PM
    WOW! Very good and justified review!
  • Meera Sundararajan
    Meera Sundararajan
    05.12.11 12:42 PM
    Sounds interesting. I will see it! Hope it is as good as your review!
  • Sunil Deepak
    Sunil Deepak
    05.12.11 10:38 AM
    That does sound like a wonderful film. It is on my list of to-watch films!
  • deepan
    03.12.11 04:03 PM
    vidya the best actress in India

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