This is a marketing gimmick camouflaged as a film. I went to a single-screen theatre to watch it. Alone. After all, this was about female empowerment. Sipping coffee, waiting for the door to open, I looked at the audience. Men – young and old. Women – young and old. One woman wore a burqa, but her face was visible; another one wore a tight tunic with pants, but her face was covered and only her eyes were visible. Weird. There was an infant, too. One elderly lady told me, “No one was willing to come along.” Aha, it was ‘The Dirty Picture’.
I had booked in advance and opted for a corner seat. The film began and at some point the dirtiness started with the protagonist making funny sounds while a couple is at it in a filthy room. Dirty, remember? It was not quite certain whether she was faking an orgasm or a crap. Just as the film is a confused medley. It does not even have the grace to be a parody; it is downright slapstick with the so-called bold dialogues not going beyond what you might hear boys in school talk about when playing with themselves. Yes, boys. Despite now claiming it is a work of fiction, the makers had pushed it as a biopic based on the real-life story of South Indian actress Silk Smitha – her overt sexuality, her exploitation and her ultimate destruction and death by suicide. It is an insult to her and to any kind of sensibility, even the crude.
For months news items and television promos were showcasing Vidya Balan, the actress who essays the part, in ‘character’. Bright clothes and a wink, irrespective of which programme she was on. The film has been declared a hit at the box office and almost all reviews and stories have been applauding Ms. Balan for her courage. This is such irony. No one ever thought of Silk as courageous. She was dismissed as a soft porn star. There are many such stories and the entertainment industry, including Hollywood, has used women. Those who make it to the big grade deny the casting couch. The others like Silk have no choice. They remain where they began, bathing under a waterfall or falling off slopes with an ageing hero.
Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika had tackled the subject with finesse, although it too had its love-making scenes and even a tantalising lavni dance by Smita Patil. It, too, was based on a real-life story. We could empathise with the character and her growth. Silk, on the other hand, does not at any point give us an opportunity to feel her pain or even her pleasure.
Bollywood has been commending the fact that a ‘respectable’ actress took up the role. This is hypocrisy and exploitative. They are using the story of a woman whose family lives in poverty in some village, and yet tacitly they are running her down. All this talk about celebrating the body is so much smooth talk. There are many such young women who perform dance numbers and they are called item girls. They go through the process of shedding their clothes, but no one says they are celebrating their bodies. They are well endowed, but no one says they are the ideal “voluptuous Indian women” as though it is a national asset. These women are low down and if they flick their tongues or bite their lips suggestively it will be deemed obscene.
The pampered star takes such a role as a “challenge”, implying the hierarchy. It is nothing short of patronising. The urban herd has certified that this is not sleaze. It makes them feel smug. Moreover, women are expected to understand that this is liberating and empowering. Did Silk have a choice? Will middle-class women “unleash their sexual side” without being branded, if not as floozies, then nymphomaniacs?
Ms. Balan who is on a high right now assisted by her PR machinery talks about Silk with a know-it-all attitude:
“She’s unapologetic about using her body and her sexuality as a big ticket to fame. There’s no shame in doing it.”
No one has asked if she, Vidya Balan, would have done so since there is no shame to it.
That would be putting a wet blanket over a hose-pipe assisted wet dream.
(c) Farzana Versey