Vidya Balan starrer ‘Dirty Picture’-Can it be a tribute?

Vidya balan in Film 'Dirty Picture'Sept 19, 2011 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS): Though scheduled to release only in December, the promos of Dirty Picture, flush with cheesecake pin-ups of Vidya Balan, are already on to build up interest. How can a film that calls itself ‘Dirty Picture’ be a tribute to a famous actress whose life ended in tragedy? 

Do filmmakers have a moral responsibility towards their audience and even, to their country? Think about films that are most likely never to be screened in India getting past the tough Censor Board like Chhatrak (Mushroom), Sri Lankan filmmaker Vimukthi Jayasundara’s Bengali film, with nude scenes by the lead pair. Vimukthi is one of the most talented filmmakers in Sri Lanka today.

Vidya Balan-Bollywood ActressOr take Q’s Gandu that has won awards at international film festival circuit. He won the Best Director and Jury Prize Awards for Gandu at the 2010 South Asian International Film Festival in New York recently.

Some sections of the people question whether these films are solely made with an eye at the foreign audience, or help augment a skewered image of the country.

Bengali actress Paoli Dam who has done an intimate love scene in the buff in Chhatrak (Mushroom) has gone to town about the episode. She has recently been signed by Vikram Bhatt for his new film Hate Story.

“Nobody from Bollywood or Tollywood has done anything like this and I had no frame of reference to work from. I did not know how to prepare for the scene,” says the dusky and sensuous Paoli. She goes on to say that she spent a lot of time with the director Vimukthi. “We discussed the film as a whole and then zeroed in on the intimate scenes. It is a political comment which goes much beyond the oral sex portrayed in it. I have complete faith in my director and that is why I did it,” she adds. The film is making rounds of international film festivals beginning with Cannes this year.

Vidya Balan is quite at ease about portraying Silk Smitha, the item dance girl who helped the box office coffers of many Southern films jingle with her oomph though with a body far removed from today’s fashionable ‘zero’ figure. In fact, she would be considered obese by today’s standards. She was extremely popular in Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam cinema, but her films were often being classified as soft porn. But naming a film purportedly on her life as a celebration of her contribution to regional cinema “Dirty” Picture would not exactly qualify as a ‘tribute’, would it?

On the morning of September 23, 1996, Smitha, uncrowned queen of glamour on the South Indian screen, was found dead in her home in Saligramam, Chennai’s tinsel town, hanging from the ceiling fan in her bedroom. She was only 36. She acted in around 500 films and charged as high as Rs.50,000 per dance number in her time. But her success also turned into her biggest defeat because she got into relationships that ended disastrously and became dependent on alcohol. The end came when her first production venture reportedly washed out her bank balance.

One has no idea whether Dirty Picture will portray this story, include her death or turn her into a survivor. Ekta Kapoor, producer of the film, tagged the film as a fictitious life story of Silk Smitha but she could easily have allowed the film to stand on its own. One wonders how director Milan Luthra is  tackling the relationships Silk Smitha had with the men in her life. A dead sex symbol throws up every scope for sensationalising a tragedy and using titillation abundantly.

The name Dirty Picture rankles especially because Silk Smitha is not around to defend the privacy she is entitled to.

In an interview last year, Ekta Kapoor said, “I’ve been waiting for almost two years for the script to be ready. Now my writer Rajat Arora has finally put the finishing touches to the story of a woman who defied all conventions to become a sensation in the South but eventually committed suicide. This will be my most exhilarating and powerful production ever. It’s about women’s empowerment and the loneliness behind stardom.” Really?  The pin-ups of Vidya Balan who has put on weight for a abundant cleavage spell a different tale. And talking about ‘women’s empowerment’ Ekta Kapoor began the trend of the regressive woman via  the Saas-Bahu serials.

Questions may also arise as to whether Indian films should portray scenes of intimacy which are privy only to foreign audiences and NRI viewers.

Ranabir Lahiri, professor, Bijoygarh College, Kolkata, wrote in an article that representation of female sexuality “operates not merely outside the pale of socially sanctioned ties but is radically freed from all taboos that control the female body and its desires.” They do exist within the cultural matrix of women’s representation in India but not as abundantly as women devoted to their maternal and domestic duties are.

None of these films are ‘dirty’ in the common understanding of the word. But the international audience and some sections of the Indian audience might read them differently as ‘dirty’. They are the filmmakers’ choice for expressing their aesthetics, their politics and their social convictions through their language – cinema

Shoma A. Chatterji

Vidya balan in Film ‘Dirty Picture’

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