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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016

" New Concoction Old Script "

Starry dreams of turning a celluloid icon overnight could only be just too common in a nation that houses the world's biggest film industry in terms of production volume. And different people have different approaches to dreams. Some dream all night with all the passion at their disposal, get up in the morning, smile to themselves whispering "oh, how I wish...", and then go about their day's work trying to eke out a living through regular chores. And the dream remains a dream sneaking into a sleepy mind every night and vanishing with the first rays of the morning sun. The story remains the same with most of the dreamers. However, there is this very slim minority that gets up in the morning and goes out to pursue the dream with all that they have. The real Silk was one such individual. The Dirty Picture tries to remodel its Silk after her, and manages to pull it off to a considerable extent riding on the appeal of the remarkably well-timed, suggestive and, at times, almost sleazy dialogues, which explains why there are moments when one feels as though one was watching a B-grade soft porn in the A-grade category. This is also the strength of the movie. The Director manages to infuse the required feel and atmosphere of the South Indian B-grade cinema without getting carried away and overdoing it. However, to call the cinematic style 'novel' or the look and feel as fresh as the first time would still be impermissible exaggeration. The concoction might be new and unusually heady for that reason, but the spirits involved are quite old.

Naseeruddin, as always, is remarkable as Suryakanth, an ageing, egoistic megastar of South Indian cinema, but the character is so acutely reminiscent of Manu Kapoor, played by Navin Nishchol in Nagesh Kuknoor's Bollywood Calling that even the sterling performance by Naseer does nothing to dilute the overpowering shadow of Manu Kapoor on Suryakanth. The result is that Suryakanth appears to be nothing more than a seamless extension of Manu Kapoor throughout, which not only takes away the freshness of the character but also makes Suryakanth look nearly as stale as weeks-old fish curry.

An ambitious and defiant Reshma (Vidya Balan) runs away from home to prevent a certain marriage from mauling her dreams. She tries her level best to land a small film role as an extra, but is repeatedly rejected, which prompts her to go the extra mile that sets her on the course to success. To the credit of the filmmakers, Reshma - who later takes the name 'Silk' - does not come across as the victim of her circumstances, nor is she seen 'forced to compromise'. What she does, she does willingly, and for her own selfish reasons. She is not driven into Suryakanth's arms by people or the circumstances, but chooses to walk up to him proffering herself on a platter in return for professional favours, which is a trade-off that Suryakanth, being the womanizer that he is, has no qualms accepting.

Silk cuts her deal with the superstar, and is happy landing her share of sizzling parts that scorch the screen and 'entertain' the front-row audience in exchange for being a pleasure-toy to Suryakanth, which she enjoys as much as he does. So, she has a great deal of good time on and off the screen until the harsh truth of her own undignified position dawns upon her in a series of small and big dozes of reality-shocks. But then, dignity was not part of the bargain. She does realize that but somehow believes that she could have all that she desired without paying a price for it. Right after the intermission the movie takes a nose dive, and loses much of its initial appeal when it tries bringing in the ages-old exploiter-men-exploited-woman equation through the backdoor when Silk gets on the stage to receive a mainstream award (What! Best Actress in the Sexy Whip-Dancer Role?), and launches her diatribe against the voyeuristic tendencies of the patriarchal world. And the movie loses ground from there on. She is then shown to realize that her 'admirers' did not really admire 'her', for she was just an attractive body, and that she was never really 'liked' by people. The directorial attempt to dumb her down after having portrayed her as a shrewd, calculating woman completely fails and irredeemably compromises the non-chalant, devil-may-care attitude of Silk, which had been the soul of her character and the high-point of the movie throughout.

She comes face to face with the ugly truth of her unacceptability when Suryakanth sends her into the adjoining bathroom when his wife turns up unexpectedly and he goes right into her arms and takes her to bed while Silk watches through the keyhole.

The reality of the day is incompatible with the ugly, dark secrets of the night couldn't be a truth beyond her grasp, given her instinctive understanding of the true nature of men in contrast with their whitewashed, sanitized day-lives. Therefore, her shock and angry response to her own situation vis-a-vis the society looks a bit out of place. Yes, knowing is a lot different from experiencing, which does explain her state of mind, but it still delivers a blow to the roundness of her character. So, wherever the movie attempts to paint her in the shades of a 'victim of her circumstances' rather than a 'losing player of the game', it starts cutting into the fundamental advantage it secured right in the beginning - Silk's unabashed and very willing acceptance of the world of sleaze.

However, what marginally saves the movie is that Silk doesn't die apologetic. She remains defiant, and the movie despite trying hard to not take a moral position does concede that the choices that one makes has a 'moral' side to it and the morality is enforced by the society irrespective of its contribution to the breeding of immorality. But this dichotomy is so well established and wide understood now that no re-packaging, howsoever thorough, hides its wrinkled skin.

HemRaj Singh


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