What A Dirty Picture!
Artistically there is nothing, nor did one expect anything outstanding in this semi-biographical but this Vidya Balan starrer The Dirty Picture by cornering nearly Rs 50 crores in the first week itself, amongst the five that had a huge opening in the process became the biggest opening ever for a woman-centric film in the history of Indian cinema, and in the process of becoming the only one in any Indian language and breaking two established cinema noir taboos: films about films or film people do not run and there is no scope for women-centric films in Indian cinema. Ostensibly based on the painful life of South Indian dancing sensation of the 1980s, Silk Smitha its release coincided with her 51st birth anniversary on December 2 simultaneously in Hindi and Telugu the film released on 1,766 screens in India and 120 abroad. The satellite rights of the film were sold for Rs 8 crore and another Rs 2 crore earned from music rights. The other relatively recent woman-oriented that did record business was Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion with Priyanka Chopra three years ago.
In the process Vidya Balan, with three successive films, has achieved what no other Hindi film heroine, with the exception of Nutan in displaying such a range: from the totally intense to the frivolous, though both Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi sought to live such roles in films labeled serious or parallel cinema that failed to generate box office responses and left only to film historians to keep alive. Paa, No One Killed Jessica, and now The Dirty Picture—each one different from the other in terms of characterisation, intensity, backdrop, especially the later which demanded frivolity and compassion in living a role. Several Hindi film heroines, from time to time, have been tested with characters that demanded intensity of emotions, no matter whether they essayed, in both rural and urban setting, roles of the wronged woman, the discarded, disbanded woman, the suffering mother, the doting loving sister, the submissive wife.
Nargis created a benchmark with Mother India, Nutan in successive films like Sujata, Bandini, Suchitra Sen in Mamta, Rekha in Umrao Jaan etc. And although there have been women directors from time to time none seems to have given more than lip service to gender sensitive or serious issue-based films, instead sought to do tread middle approach. Two expatriates, Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay—life of street children in the metropolis, Kama Sutra—homo and heterosexuality using the ancient text was banned in India though it had Rekha, Indira Varma and others) and Deepa Mehta (Fire—female bonding, and Water (plight of widows). The home-grown Kalpana Lajmi ( Darmiyan—a eunuch, Daman—marital violence, Rudaali—professional women mourners, Chingari-about prostitution as a means of livelihood and suppression through religious force), Revathi (Phir Milege about HIV virus), Alankrita Shrivastava (Turning 30, dealing with the coming of age of an unmarried woman), Meghna Gulzar (Filhaal, surrogate mother), Karan Razdan (Girl Friend about lesbianism), and others of the ilk who have or would attempt to make a dent by dealing with more core and sensitive issues that have women centre-stage at a time when Hindi cinema is at crossroads of sorts, and trying to move away from the stereotype.
So whether it is Milan Luthria (The Dirty Picture, a biopic on the life South Indian sizzler, Silk Smitha), Madhur Bhandarkar (Chandani Bar dealing with the life of a sex worker, and Fashion that looks at grime behind glamour of models), Vishal Bhardwaj (7 Khoon Maaf about a loathsome serial spouse-killer), Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Black portraying the life of a deaf and blind girl and her aspirations despite handicaps, as well as Guzarish), Raj Kumar Santoshi (Damini about rape, Lajja, a hard hitting satire on the status of women in society) Shyam Benegal (Bhoomika a biopic based on the life of Marathi stage actor Hansa Wadkar, Zubeida, yet another biopic set in feudal India), Nagesh Kuknoor (Dor about a woman’s attempt at rescuing her husband and Mod), Vinay Shukla (Godmother about a female don, and Mirch about women’s emancipation), Sudhir Mishra (Chemeli: Kareena Kapoor as a streetwalker), Raj Kumar Gupta (No One Killed Jessica, the gruesome murder of a socialite, and a crusading journalist), Gulzar (Aandhi, a woman caught between career and family) who have shown the courage and sensitively present the characters in a more realistic manner, that too in the presence of solid male performers as well.
The Dirty Picture deals with works at multiple levels, and heralds the coming of age of an actor who is at ease in tackling both glamour and intensity with the same fervor. She once again seems to be singing Udi udi kahan chali main itefaq se, reportedly still her ringtone and it is doubtful she would replace it with one from the latest release which she carried on her frail shoulders. A film that would not only jack up her box office ratings as also her “non-conformist image” in the otherwise fickle minded industry which has seldom recognised the potential of a female actor. Tabbu tried it only to get lost into oblivion. One hopes she does not meet the same fate. She has the added advantage of looking glamourous.
Speaking to another film writer, she said: “A few years back when I was trying to fit into some formula, my sister had told me that the easiest thing in the world is to be yourself. People spend a lifetime trying to be somebody else. In the last three or four years I have learnt that there are no set rules of success here. It took me some time to get over the mental block because it is easier said than done. Once the attitude comes, it is easier to translate into action. Thankfully, I have got opportunities to act different people’s lives.”
Beginning with Parineeta (2005) Vidya has starred in 15 Hindi films excluding one each in Bengali (Bhalo Theko, 2003) and Malayalam (Urumi, 2011), displaying a remarkable range and getting three Filmfare Best Actress nominations and four awards for Best Debut, Face of the Year (both for Parineeta), Best Actress and Critics Award for Ishqiya prompting a critic to observe, “Balan’s smoldering looks scorch the screen even as her eyes hint at tragedy. She proves that she is miles ahead of the cookie cutter Barbie dolls that clutter Bollywood and that sensuality has very little to do with showing skin.” The same can be said for her sizzling, sterling performance in Dirty Picture (she is bound to corner all the Best Actress popular awards once again). Her vast repertoire has been evident in the different roles she has essayed in other films (even where she did not have much to do) like Bhool Bhuliyan, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Guru, Eklavya, Heyy Babby, Halla Bol, Kismet Konnection, Thank You and No One Killed Jessica making her forthcoming Kahani to look forward to in March 2012.
By Suresh Kohli