Why we are waiting to see The Dirty Picture
By Sharan Saikumar
Here we are, nearly 15 years after the death of a soft porn-star — who belonged to the world that lives south of the Vindhyas and a galaxy away from ours — waiting to see a movie based entirely on her life. Why? Vidya Balan's prosthetically enhanced booty is not a good enough answer.
Silk Smitha came in and disrupted a society that was — and still is — so tightly wound up in a moral bind that Houdini couldn't get them of it. And yet Silk Smitha did. Without compromising on the resplendent bust and buttocks that were her signature. She rejected the orthodoxy that was the convention in her times and gave them her body instead — daring them to see and face it, and in doing so, inspired a mixture of revulsion and a grudging admiration for how she chose to live. She broke the rules of hierarchy by simply being seated, one famous thigh crossed tartly over the other, when Shivaji Ganesan — in front of whom the director himself bowed — walked into the studio, justifying her insolence with 'it wasn't his thigh that my leg was resting on'.
Silk Smitha's story is not a story of deprivation and desperation; her's is a story of raw ambition, a thoroughly refreshing story set in a scrupulously stodgy part of the world where ambition is a male preserve. It's a story that's not been heard before in Bollywood. That's why we wait for it.
For the longest time in Hindi cinema, the only story that was allowed in the rare 'heroine-oriented' role was that of revenge. Varying tempos of the Bandit Queen theme featured suppressed women pushed beyond their limits who eventually (and typically towards the fag end of the movie) stood up and overcame (or simply shot down) their aggressors. Think Sita aur Gita. Lajja. Khoon Bhari Maang. Dor. Astitva. The sob stories are endless. The woman has to be a victim of circumstance or wrongdoing. But what if the heroine isn't a victim of rape? Or betrayal? What happens when instead of fighting for survival, she shifts the game to fighting for success? With the exception of Madhur Bhandarkar's Fashion where success is rather simplistically translated into drug abuse, Bollywood doesn't have an answer to that question. That is why we wait for The Dirty Picture.
In the world of Hindi movies, the heroine has been cast firmly in black or white — evil vamp or chaste virtue — both of which are extremes and neither of which are real. Reality may be closer to the 'anti-heroine' — a grey character with texture, complexity, overt sexuality and negotiable morality who is capable of love and hate in equal measure. The anti-heroine is incredibly iconic yet heartbreakingly real, feverishly worshipped yet heartily reviled. She has the ability to go all out and grab her destiny, nurture her ambition and not be ashamed of desire – status quo be damned. The birth of the anti-heroine is why we wait for The Dirty Picture.
Vidya Balan, even before The Dirty Picture, fits easily into the mould of the anti-heroine. She has already demonstrated her understanding of this evolved species in playing the character of the seductive, black widow, Krishna. Ishqiya may have been a classic story of revenge but it imbued Krishna with a refreshing deviousness and blithe use of her sexuality that was entirely modern. Krishna's story, like that of Silk Smitha's, may have started out as a story of circumstances but it ended, very much, a story of choice. Vidya Balan stands apart, as one of the very few 'mass' heroines who have exhibited a willingness to go down this road right till the end. Characters like Sweety in Kaminey, who bulldozes her boyfriend into sex and then marriage; a Paro in DevD, who determinedly carries her own mattress into the fields hoping for a romp in the hay; reassure us that filmmakers in Bollywood may yet grow a pair of balls. But unlike Balan these characters have not been headline roles. Vidya Balan is why we wait for The Dirty Picture, thunder thighs and all.
Female characters in Bollywood may never evolve to film noir levels of Rita Hayworth or Marlene Dietrich but at least they aim to get there. The men, on the other hand, regress rapidly. Salman sticks assiduously to his all brawn, no brain avatar of 20 years back with Dabbang and SRK goes back to a Me Tarzan, you Jane mode with Ra.One, leaving behind the heartening lesson to his son that no matter what they tell you, the world is still ruled by alpha males in spandex tights. That's why wait for The Dirty Picture — so that his generation may know better.
As a blogger, ex-marketer, evangelist of socialfootprint.in and would-be novelist, Sharan Saikumar wears many hats, none of which really fit.