THE DIRTY PICTURE – (Dir. Milan Luthria, 2011, India)

Based on the real life exploits of South Indian film actress Vijayalakshmi, who took the screen name of Silk Smitha, Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture sees Vidya Balan dance her way through an uneven look at the female film star in the context of the Indian film industry. Although Vidya Balan is perfectly cast and carries the film with what is surely one of the highlights performances of the year, her sincerity is undermined somewhat by an overwrought screenplay, messy narrative and underwhelming directing. The central idea is undoubtedly fascinating, that of the Indian film actress who is eroticised and exploited for her sexuality by film producers. Such exploitation taps into Laura Mulvey’s feminist proposition that women are sexualised by the camera for the pleasure of the male spectator. The major problem with this film is the way in which the narrative disintegrates and loses its focus, glancing over the demise of Silk and reducing much of the drama to montage. Although Vidya Balan and Naseeruddin Shah are perfectly cast, both Tushar Kapoor and Emran Hashmi lack both the acting finesse and weight to carry off their roles. Emran Hashmi is seriously mis-cast as the disgruntled director who is critical of cinema’s increasingly superficial obsessions with using sex as means of titillating audiences. The Dirty Picture is a mainstream musical melodrama, which means obvious artistic compromises have been made at the expense of the film’s more interesting ideological aspects. The analysis the film presents of the state of Indian cinema in the 1980s and even today is not revolutionary or revelatory in any way – that men and patriarchy dictates the exploitation of women while remaining more or less immune from the problems of aging, career longevity and success is nothing new and most likely still exists today. Nevertheless, Vidya Balan’s magnetic screen presence shapes and controls the narrative and the strong feminist agenda, no doubt a manifestation of Ekta Kapoor’s interest in female narratives as demonstrated by her television work, makes a refreshing alternative to the way in which most films are still male dominated. Overall, there are some imaginative touches throughout including some wonderful tributes to South Indian cinema and Vidya Balan proves yet again she is one of the few actresses who has exceptional range and grace.

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