Vidya Balan sells The Dirty Picture, sex not so much

The story is about a young, sassy girl, Reshma, played by Vidya Balan, who dreams of a world beyond her humble surroundings and runs off to Madras to become an actress. She is unapologetic about her sexuality and is ready to do anything to enable her starry dreams. And she's not playing the lone, hapless victim card or looking for parental or societal approval for her bold choices in life.

From a mere back-up dancer, she moves up the ranks to leading lady in the 80s, now rechristened Silk, flaunting her heaving bosom and simulating orgasms with as much pleasure on screen as she would off it. Needless to add, movie theatres fill up just to see Silk and empty out just as fast once her bits are done, never mind the heroic antics of the male leads. Journalists sell magazines with sensational headlines and provocative covers of Silk in a time where a female actor getting such precedence over the males was simply unthinkable. Silk's films are deemed vulgar and crass, catering to the lowest common denominator - the front benchers so to speak, but she powers on, paying no heed to the naysayers whatsoever.

The main players in Silk's life are a wannabe Hollywood director type, Abraham, played by Emraan Hashmi who despises her; an ageing and chauvinistic superstar, Suryakant, who desires her, played superbly by Naseeruddin Shah; and his meek younger brother, Ramakant, played by Tusshar, who admires her. The role that each of them, along with the filmmaker who gave her her first break, play in moulding and altering her life, is the essential story of the film.

Though she is a hero in her films, going about her risqué routines in front of the camera with uninhibited wanton, she is vulnerable and fragile when it comes to her personal life. Vidya as Silk draws you into her story from the first frame of the film to the very end, in a manner most beguiling as it is bewitching – be it her raunchy moves, clever lines, anguish, enjoying sex, joy, her drunken stupors or defeat. Not for a moment do you feel she is not Silk – she owns the character. She makes her job look so very easy, and that's really what a good performance is all about. There is one scene in the film where she looks eerily like the late jazz singer, Amy Winehouse, sans the beehive hairdo, in a drug-fuelled haze. Vidya put on 12 kilos for the role and carries off the itsy-bitsy costumes like she was born to flash skin, some wobbly bits notwithstanding. Very brave! It's more a "take it away Vidya" than "put it away" really. Flowery adjectives don't seem appropriate to laud her incredible work in the film. Silk entices and nails her lovers; Vidya just nails the role!

Not for a moment do you feel Vidya is not Silk – she owns the character. Image from the film's Facebook page.

Naseeruddin Shah is just brilliant as Suryakant – the lecherous, philandering and self-absorbed cretin that he plays. He elicits mirth and disgust in equal measure in his portrayal as a superstar.

Tusshar looks and plays his part with credible restraint and Emraan's performance is just as able.

The film stays true to the 80s era in its production values – the sets, sound, cinematography, costumes, language, locations, music and the lyrics. The Ooo La La song picturisation is very reminsicent of the Jeetendra-Sridevi starrers like Tohfa, Himmatwala and Mawali and it's very enjoyable. Milan Luthria has done a fantastic job helming such a sensitive, yet very bold story in an extremely dignified manner, not once resorting to pulling a vulgar or cheap gimmick in the entire film. There are some memorable lines in the film like, "Bhagwan ne jab ek zindagi di hai to do baar kya sochna," "Zindagi jab mayoos hoti hai, tabhi mehsoos hoti hai" and "Main Silk hoon Silk, koi film nahin ki interval ke baad badal jaaon." Some of the dialogues are loud and lewd, but go with the colloquial parlance of the film. Like when Silk asks Suryakant who brags about his 500 conquests, "Kabhi ek se 500 baar tuning ki hai?" or "Raat mein 12 baje ki suiyon ki tarah chipke rehte aur ho din mein 6".

The second half of the film feels like the pace slowed down, if only a tad, but only because the first half was a thrilling ride. A couple of characters like the younger actress Shakila could have been cast better and the dance off between her and Silk is just long drawn out. Silk can't come to terms with her cruel ouster from the business by the very people that loved her - her loyal audience - and she tries to numb out the reality of her slipping from the top ranks with alcohol and arrogance which only speed up her fall even further.

Producer Ekta Kapoor is coming into her own as a film producer, having reigned supreme on television for more than a decade now. The Dirty Picture is a brave attempt at "different" — a very abused term in the film business. She has always adhered to the "content is king" rule and The Dirty Picture tells you a real story with the grit and the glam, without compromising on the entertainment value of the film. She tasted success with her last film, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai starring Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi and Kangna Ranaut, and The Dirty Picture is poised for a great run at the box office.

During the interval, when a guest was eyeing a Thums Up, I couldn't resist saying, "You've tasted the thunder inside; I don't think this is going to work!" She agreed.

Rating: 5 stars