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shock and awe

Vidya Balan is the hero


The hype on The Dirty Picture has been at fever pitch for months on end. The film that released globally yesterday has managed to shock and awe in equal measure. Director Milan Luthria talks to TOI-Crest on the experience of making one of the raunchiest films in mainstream Bollywood...

Why the obsession with Silk Smitha? Did you know her personally?

I wanted to do a heroine oriented film and I was looking for the underdog. Ekta (Kapoor) and Rajat (Arora, the writer) had done some work on a story. They were looking to make a very small film. I wanted to open it up. I wanted to make a very colourful and mainstream, visually stunning, masala film. Ekta was totally on fire. We wanted our lead character to be a woman who takes on the male bastion. Our era was the '80- '90s when there was a lot of closet stuff, when leading men led dual lives. My lead girl had no choice but to be blatant. She had to be in your face, not apologetic about being sexy.

It isn't just Silk's life that I was following. There was fame and loneliness, despair and heartbreak in many of these girls' lives. From Marlin Monroe to Silk Smitha, and so many others, one found a common thread. There was no peace in their lives after their meteoric rise.

It is coincidence that I have worked with Silk. She did an item song in Mahesh Bhatt's Naraaz and I was an assistant then. I have also seen Disco Shanti. In the mid' 90s, girls like Polyester Padmini, Nylex Nalini and Silk were at their peak. Even though they belonged down South, Hindi cinema was casting them. People had stopped going to cinemas those days because video was gaining importance. And that is when these phoenixes brought the audience back into the theatres with their compelling presence. However big a hero - be it Chiranjeevi, Kamal Haasan or Mithun Chakraborthy - the producer always made way for a dance with Silk or whoever. Whether good or bad, they were selling. The hypocrisy of that era, the ageing heroes trying to look young, their fancy libidos, the cloak and dagger stuff, not acknowledging the affairs, we researched it all and came up with our heroine. As we worked, we realised it was important to place our film in the South. The colours, the Bappi Lahiri bling, the oranges, the pots - we brought it all out. We had to ensure we don't end up making a spoof. We want people to enjoy the kitsch elements so they can laugh with you - not at you. So Dirty Picture couldn't be a Quick Gun Murugan.

Why call it 'The Dirty Picture' ?

When Ekta, Rajat Arora and I announced that we were calling our film The Dirty Picture, most people objected. But I was determined not to change it. After all, life is messy. And life in the movies is messier than elsewhere. My movie talks about life in the movies. It's an insider account.

How did Vidya become Silk?

We did over 200 look tests over four months. The make-up, costumes, hairstyles, mannerisms were all fined tuned to a degree that bordered on the obsessive. The idea was to have Vidya explode on screen as the complete Hindi film heroine. I wanted her to be beautiful, voluptuous, a great dancer, display great emotion and just be the whole package. Some of these things were missing in her repertoire. To me, Vidya is like Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini and Sridevi. She has the face, the figure, the oomph, the charisma, the talent and the star quality.

Didn't Vidya have many reservations when you first approached her?

I am a huge fan of Vidya and she has liked all my work. However, when I first offered her this movie, she refused point blank.
I told her that I wanted to make a heroine oriented film with her and it had to be something dynamic. Then she started to bite the bait. She asked me to park the script with her and promised to give it a thought.

There were a hundred unanswered questions. She was uneasy. She wanted to know how I would dress her, what would people think. She didn't want to make her family uncomfortable. There were many bridges to cross. I was patient. I waited, waited. Then, somewhere, she crossed a barrier in her mind. I told her just one thing: if you are doing it, don't do it with hesitation. Trust me. I told her I am not going to exploit, I am going to explore. After that point there was no hesitation.

I have explored her completely as a woman. From the fact that she is beautiful, to the fact that she is sexy. Her emotional despair, her bad choices in life and her relationships. Her highs and her strengths. I told Vidya through the making that 'it is paramount that you walk away with dignity'. The biggest prize for doing a role like this should be a dignified performance, not cheap insults. Of course, in some sequences we have gone unabashedly dirty and rightly so.

We worked on trust. I got Vidya friendly with the crew. Many of my HODs were women. Sometimes my set was closed to everyone except me and my cameraman.

You had to gauge if Vidya's neckline was correct and appropriate...

Believe me, it was tough. When a woman is trying on clothes for a man, it is a very personal space. However, when Vidya was doing that and I was present, I wasn't there in my capacity as a man. I am a director. I had to gauge 'is the neckline too low?' or is she looking vulgar? At such points, I felt Vidya was very vulnerable. The film has about 100 costume changes. When you see the film, you will find her looking top class. Every outfit was supervised by me, every strand of hair, every shade of nail polish, every accessory was chosen by me. It was a mammoth undertaking.

Vidya had to put on weight for the role. .

Yes, and I couldn't get her to look bad despite the weight. For an actress who is at the peak of her career, to agree to put on weight is not easy. Of course we have used certain elements of prosthetics but I must say Vidya deserves total kudos for her spirit and enterprise.

And now she has become a rage. .

Vidya Balan has given a powerhouse performance. I cannot think of any Indian actress more suited to the role than her. But striking the right balance between what is erotic and what is obscene was a tall order. I just knew one thing - for me Vidya was not going to be a heroine, she was going to be a hero. I knew I was going to treat this character as a swashbuckling hero, who entertains, enthralls and does everything larger than life.


Silk, who shot to fame because of scanty clothes, didn't believe in covering herself with a towel even between shots. Her logic was - she was being paid to expose, so why pretend otherwise?
She charged Rs 50, 000 for a song way back in the '80s

90 per cent of the films down South, especially Kollywood, weren't complete without an item number by Silk

She didn't believe in mock hypocrisy. She would not jump out of her chair just because a senior actor walked on to the set. She believed she was paid to dance, not to do 'chamchagiri'

She was what the industry calls a compulsory blind - even when the heroes were as big as Sivaji Ganesan, Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan


Down South, there are varied opinions about Vidya Balan playing Silk - and most people feel the 'Ishquiya' actress doesn't match up to the Southern star. "Vidya looks sexy in the poster, but she is nothing like Silk, "says a male star, refusing to come on quote
Many feel Vidya's physical attributes don't do justice to Silk Smitha. Silk was dusky, slightly over 5 feet 7 inches tall and had big eyes. Vidya is about 5 feet 2 inches tall, has small eyes, is petite and has a wheatish complexion. When Silk licked her thick luscious lips and rolled her eyes dreamily, she was every man's dirty fantasy. Silk filled the screen with her wide bosom, broad shoulders and long legs. Vidya is tiny and her torso doesn't quite add up

What would Silk think?

They deny it vehemently but Ekta Kapoor, her screen writer Rajat Arora and director Milan Luthria have obviously been 'inspired by' the life and times of cabaret girl Silk Smitha. And The Dirty Picture can loosely be termed as a biopic of the item girl who rose to such dizzying heights, that she almost became a permanent fixture in the movies of that era.

The Dirty Picture traces the life of Reshma (Vidya Balan), who leaves her home in a village in South India and heads to Chennai for a break in the movies. Realising that the shortcut to fame is her body, Reshma agrees to become Silk, the 'showgal' who unabashedly courts both fame and famous superstars.

Her blatant attitude and her body get her name, notoriety and money. However, they also bring heartbreak and emptiness in equal measure, because the men she courts are willing to serenade her at night but want to keep her closeted during the day.
The Dirty Picture has pithy dialogue, some of which is sure to shock. And with a powerhouse performance from Vidya, the movie grabs the viewer's attention for the most part. Where it fails is the lack of tempo in the second half, but the movie redeems itself in the climax.

But the most important question: Would Silk Smitha be flattered or annoyed with this movie? And what would she say about Vidya's portrayal of a character reportedly based on her? As someone who has seen the Silk era, I think she would be flattered they made a movie on her. But she wouldn't be too happy with the reported impersonation. For, according to her, God made Silk and then broke the mould.


Reader's opinion (1)

Atul JainDec 3rd, 2011 at 14:38 PM

It is a beautiful writeup.I can visualise Balan without a towel in between the shots.It has made Silk and Balan add up to a lot more than Maralyn.

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