Pictures, Dirt, and Women

Who receives a best picture award? The producer, of course. Thats why it’s interesting that there is so little talk about Ekta Kapoor’s relation to The Dirty Picture. Ekta Kapoor is known for her stamp in her productions. Her films (in stark contrast to her serials) are edgy, low-budget, and profitable without being big hits. But before there were films, before there were Bahus, and Parivaars, she made Hum Paanch. In a series of actresses who played the bumbling Radhika, there was one Vidya Balan. She is the hero of the latest Balaji Film, looking at dirt under the fingernails of cinema & society.

Vidya is Reshma, who wants to be somebody, and runs away from home to hunger and struggle. She only comes before the camera because she is more desperate than others, but once facing the camera, transforms into a seductive persona that strikes a chord with the masses. A superstar becomes her mentor, but only after he becomes a secret lover. An arty, failed director hates her for being low-brow, but especially for being successful. And the underachieving brother of the superstar idolizes her.

The story is that of the rise, and yes, the fall of a girl who waned to be someone. Its the story of a brash, unsophisticated, uninhibited force let lose in a society that demonizes her at the same time as it fantasizes about her. But the film hits against the age old problem in making a film about exploitation. Does the film itself become exploitative? Does a film about the market power of sex use the same power to sell itself? Is it a serious film about sleaze, or a sleazy film pretending to be serious? A bit of both?

The core of the film is the character of the protagonist. When she watches herself gyrating seductively on screen, and sees people lap it up, she giggles like a child. She is unabashed and happy in her skin of Silk, and happy to take on the world. After her heart is broken, and failure looms, she crosses the thin line between brash and grating. The downward spiral of her failure is as unexciting as it is predictable. And so is the guy who stands by her when the world abandons her.

In the end, snappy dialogue, bravura performance, and pitch-perfect period setting can not make up for the fact that there is little that stays with you after the credits roll by. I liked it less than I wanted to. Vidya Balan has done an amazing job, and should start making space on her shelf for trophies. She has breathed life in the contrast between the character on screen and the girl-woman behind it. She is star-struck, with herself. Having said that, this is no Ishqiya performance. The emphasis is on the large, not the subtle. (Pun not intended)

There is much to like abut the film, and it treads a tough line very well. It manages to demonstrate her appeal without itself looking to titillate. It’s a tough film to make, and it almost succeeds. As a mirror to the hypocrisy in society, it works well, but it is feminist only in empowering Vidya Balan & Ekta Kapoor. In an industry dominated by men, this is a combination of Producer-Actor who have shown what a force they are.

So Ekta Kapoor will add another crease to the bulge of her bank account, Vidya will establish herself firmly amongst the most formidable stars and versatile actors, and The Dirty Picture will be remembered as a big hit, not a masterpiece.