The Dirty Picture

Even without knowing the now denied Silk Smitha association The Dirty Picture is a road well travelled. A young girl runs away to become a star and fame changes her life, not always for the better. Vidya Balan delivers a sensational performance in every meaning of the word. I can’t imagine any other current day actress in the role. She gives Silk a robust earthiness that is a delight to watch and her performance rescues the film from the danger of being a mere ode to sleaze.

Vidya doesn’t rely on just hip thrusting and heaving her ample chest. Despite being lightly sketched as a character, Silk grows and changes and the subtle nuances that illustrate this are all in the acting. Silk starts off Reshma, a quick witted attention seeker who doesn’t care how she gets noticed as long as she gets into the movies. She is outrageous in a ridiculous attempt at being sexy, using lewd tongue gestures and whip fondling to show she is a very bad girl. Her performances in the films within the film become more realistic and practiced as her off screen relationships develop. Silk becomes a real vamp as she delivers what men want but does it in her own style, on and off screen. Through it all, she rarely loses her joyous smile and the wicked sparkle in her eyes. She keeps her cheerfully smutty humour intact, simulating an orgasm and then winking at the director as they joke like schoolboys about who she was imagining. When her story takes the inevitable turn for the tragic, Vidya has a maturity and subtlety that makes the resolution genuinely moving. She shows Silk’s heartbreak, anger and her resignation.

So I have to mention Vidya’s boobs. Yes, they are front and centre for a lot of her screen time. When Silk is performing a dance or scene, putting herself on display, the camera crawls over her body in a voyeuristic way. But if Silk is at home or not on show, the focus is usually more on her face or a full body shot. I was pleased to see that distinction from the unadulterated sleaze of the films Silk was making. She has no false modesty about why men look at her, and she happily uses her body to make an impression.  Silk doesn’t just fall into bed with anyone, but she doesn’t see any reason not to when she is interested. Vidya has the ample curves of a 70s item bombshell and exudes confidence. She also shows the physical changes of a woman aging and paying the price for some riotous living, and that helps make Silk more sympathetic.

Naseruddin Shah is ‘Smashing’ Surya, a parody of aging 1970s Tamil film heroes. He is a narcissist and sleazebag, wanting this fresh piece of meat but turning on her when Silk’s notoriety starts to eclipse his fame. His performance is very good but he has played this kind of aging womaniser so often that I felt it was a bit stale, silly cowboy hats notwithstanding.

Emraan Hashmi is director Abraham. He narrates a lot of the film in a voiceover that sounds bored and it was unsubtitled at times which annoyed me. Abraham represents the arty side of film making and professes to hate Silk. His character is so vague that his motivations are muddled or not evident. When he and Silk eventually bury the hatchet, he does seem more relatable but I don’t think Emraan added anything to the film.

Tusshar Kapoor is also in a thankless role as Surya’s spineless skivvy-wearing younger brother Ramakant. He completes a love triangle but again a weakly written character and a so-so performance left the element of tension lacking. Tusshar did have a fun scene when he cut loose and danced to Silk’s signature song but that was about it for him.

These men represent different attitudes to Silk – the predatory, the judgemental and the romantic. She is the subject of desire, hatred and gossip but is blissfully unaware for ages as she only looks at pictures of herself and never reads the scathing articles. Silk is a huge fan of Silk. When Surya says she has no place in a home only in someone’s bed, that is how she is seen by ‘society’. It is only when Silk’s relationship with Surya ends that she starts to think about the implications of being notorious. That breakup is the catalyst for a downward spiral into drinking and wild behaviour as her career falters. She is surrounded by men who want her, but none who really like her. That’s what made me sad.

The story is the traditional rags to riches, and the exploitation of a woman providing an embodiment of sexual fantasy is not really surprising either. There are some really interesting bits as the movie industry is critiqued, and the script has some funny one-liners. Even though Rajat Arora has some zingers in the dialogue, the main characters lack depth and the way the story is told is quite stilted. There isn’t quite enough tension between the three men and Silk, although the brothers have some good scenes as Ramakant is forced to bow to his older superstar sibling. I’ve mentioned the voiceover by Abraham and director Milan Luthria uses other narrative devices that made me feel distanced. Nayla, a gossip columnist, often appears to make prophetic statements about Silk but rarely interacts with the scandalous actress. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it really doesn’t fit to have this Greek chorus of one pop up and comment. I really liked Anju Mahendru in the role of Nayla. She made the gossip queen a strong and vivid presence, a woman who had seen it all before and only cared as much as it contributed to her next headline.  Maybe it is a characterisation drawn from her experiences?

The retro style music by Vishal-Shekhar is lots of fun as it is mostly used for Silk’s item numbers.  I don’t think there are any future classics in the soundtrack but I loved seeing the cheesy picturisation to the Bappi Lahiri and Shreya Ghoshal duet on Ooh La La. Ishq Sufiana is quite lovely but I don’t think it was necessary to have the 80s style picturisation complete with Emraan in a see through shirt. It felt like an afterthought. Nakka Mukka is used as a recurring theme for Silk, and it encapsulates her energy and physicality. The art direction is great, and the costumes are straight out of films from the 70s and 80s. There are lots of references to famous dances or scenes, and I had a great time trying to place the original. Alas, there was no Chiranjeevi-esque dashing lycra clad hero for this Silk.

When I heard about this film and that Vidya had been cast I did wonder about the dancing as I’ve never found her to be terribly good. That question is neatly dealt with when an assistant director criticises her for missing a beat and his producer says ‘Never mind the beat, look at that heat’.

Silk said it best – Audiences want three things; entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. And Vidya as Silk is entertainment.

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Shor In The City

Shor in the City didn’t get a cinematic release in Melbourne, which was very disappointing to those of us who had been following updates on twitter. Good reviews, an interesting cast line up and compelling trailer meant that I got the DVD as soon as it was released, and watched it almost straight away. It’s a film that would look great on the big screen, with some beautiful shots of Mumbai and the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, but the storyline and excellent performances make it a very worthwhile DVD watch as well.

The film takes place over  Ganesh Chaturthi  and follows three stories which are not interlinked, although there is one character who is involved in all three. Interestingly the opening credits state that all the events in the film are inspired from newspaper articles, which at times made me wonder exactly what does get reported in Mumbai. It’s a slice of life in the city and seems to be a very realistic serving.

The first story centre around Tilak (Tusshar Kapoor) and his two friends Ramesh (Nikhil Dwivedi) and Mandook (Pitobash). While Tilak runs a business illegally copying and publishing books to sell at traffic intersections, his two friends seem to be mainly engaged in petty theft and other small crime. Tilak is also recently married and the relationship with his new wife Sapna is one of the standouts of the film. Their initial awkwardness around each other and the slow development of their relationship is very well portrayed. I would have to say that this is probably the best performance by Tusshar Kapoor that I have seen – I can’t remember much about him in other films, but he really impressed me here. Radhika Apte is excellent as Sapna and the chemistry between the two is develops realistically as their relationship evolves. This is the second time I’ve seen Radhika Apte (she was in Onir’s excellent I Am) and she shows her versatility here with a completely different but equally compelling performance.

The film follows the lives of the three friends as they kidnap a writer to steal his latest manuscript, try to get rid of some guns and a bomb that they have stolen and finally get involved in a bank robbery. Nikhil Dwivedi is totally crazy as Mandook and while he portrays the type of person that you would hope never to meet in real life, on-screen he is funny and infuriating in equal measures. Ramesh is somewhat overshadowed by the force that is Mandook, but the relationship between the three feels very natural and true to life. Whether it is riding around on a motorbike taking surreptitious pictures of girls or hanging out in a bar taking pictures of themselves writer/ directors Raj Nidimoru, Krishna D K and writer Sita Menon really seem to have got these three right.

The second story revolves around Abhay, an NRI from the USA who has come to Mumbai to set up a small business. His shock and incredulousness at the number and extent of the bribes he has to pay is understandable, but things take a much darker turn when a couple of extortionists – Premal (Zakir Hussain) and his boss Hemraj (Suresh Dubey) – turn up demanding he pay protection money. They threaten him and his new model girlfriend Sharmili (Preeti Desai) and his helplessness is compounded when he cannot get the answers he wants from the police. Sendhil Ramamurthy looks out of place enough to be perfect for this role. He is an American actor who has appeared in a number of TV shows, but I hadn’t ever seen him before so he fitted the part well for me. His attempts at Hindi before lapsing back into frustrated English are just brilliant and remind me so much of my attempts to communicate in India! The last part of his story is a little less believable but it’s still an engrossing watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I liked the contrasts in Abhay’s story. Firstly the contrast  between his work life; trying to set up a business, dealing with IT issues, dealing with his employees and the extortionists and then his more Western style life clubbing and shopping with his girlfriend. Again the story is very realistic and there is a moment where Sharmili spots a poster of herself and her reaction of – look there’s me! – is spot on. Then the contrasts between the noise of Ganesh Visarjan and the quiet of Abhay’s apartment, and of his initial excitement at being in Mumbai gradually changing as the realities of his situation kick in. But what really impressed me here was a scene where Abhay’s employee speaks to his wife on the phone about eating dinner with his boss just before Hemraj walks in. The detail about his phone conversation makes his employee a very real person and the distain with which he is subsequently treated serves to accentuate the viciousness of the extortionists. This attention to small details occurs throughout the film and I think this is why it feels true to life and works on a number of different levels.

The final story involves Sawan, a talented cricketer who is trying out for the under 22 team. He quickly realises that skill and talent are only going to get him so far, and that to get into the team he will need to bribe the selector. But he doesn’t have the kind of money it takes, and to add to his troubles his girlfriend Sejal (Girija Oak) is being pressured into a marriage by her family and is constantly asking for his help. The scenes between Sawan and Sejal again feel very realistic and their situation a common one. Judging by the number of couples in this scene at any rate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was very keen to see Sundeep Kishan here since he was excellent in his Telugu debut Prasthanam, and I wasn’t disappointed.   Sundeep is totally believable as Sawan and perfectly fits the role of the aspiring cricketer who knows enough about life to understand the selection bribery, but still wants to believe that the game is above such taints. At one point he says to his friend, ‘Have I been speaking in Telugu?’ which my subtitles rather strangely translate as, ‘What have I been saying all this time?’, but it did make me smile.  I liked the way he practices his game on the roof using a mirror and the natural rapport he has with his sister when she asks him to look after his nephew. His solution to his money crisis is rather drastic, but his attempts to deal with Sejal are the responses I can imagine any young man in his situation making and it’s all very believable.

Sawan’s friend Tipu is the one character who appears in all three threads of the film. He’s a ‘fixer’ who is responsible for organising crowds for demonstrations and riots, buying and selling of various commodities and many other illegal activities. Amit Mistry plays the role with plenty of humour and has a diverse collection of shirts.

The cinematography is excellent and Mumbai itself becomes another character in the film. We see a number of different sides to the city with shots from above and across the water as well as the loud and exuberant street scenes of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. The festival acts as an underlying beat and the crowds and noise press heavier and heavier as the film progresses.

The music is also excellent and fits well into the narrative. The opening number is suitably loud and brash, and Saibo is a beautifully sweet.  There are no big song and dance scenes which really weren’t necessary here and in fact would have totally derailed the story. The lack of an item number in the night club scene is very appreciatively noted!

The film is a great look at a slice of Mumbai life and the writers are to be congratulated on taking a number of stories and making them all work together so well. Each of the actors seems to fit their character and it’s one of those films where I keep noticing more and more clever detail on repeated viewing. The end is less successful in some respects although the final resolutions over the end credits are brilliant. Watch for some great performances, clever story writing and to find out why karma really is a bitch. 4 ½ stars.

Temple says:

Shor In The City isn’t totally successful in my book, but it is a lot to ask that all the stories succeed equally- and they don’t. Most of the let down is in Sendhil Ramamurthy’s storyline. It’s just too pat. He is the perfect NRI having the perfectly frustrating and confronting return to India, meets the perfect model girlfriend on arrival, lives in the perfect apartment with the perfect luxe lifestyle, suffers the perfect stereotypical rip-off and commits the perfect crime in payback. For me, it lacks the subtlety and emotional hook of the other characters’ stories, and I just didn’t buy it completely. I have to confess, I think he is very decorative but a pretty ordinary actor. I sat through the truly awful “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife” which is a very unfunny ‘comedy’ in which Sendhil played one of the leads so I was predisposed to feeling a tad jaundiced. But I think his character and performance also suffer in the comparison to the other two guys. Sundeep Kishan is perfect casting as Sawan with his mix of confidence and self doubt that made him choose unwisely at times. Sundeep seems very natural and his timing and rapport with the other actors feels really spontaneous. I was amazed by Tusshar Kapoor who was sweet and awkward and fun as Tilak. I’d never rated him much as an actor but this was a really moving performance in a role that has great range but also needs a lot of restraint. His scenes with his brand new wife were beautifully judged, and his excitement about books and reading (baffling to his sidekicks) was totally endearing. I liked the way Sawan and Tilak provided a nice contrast and tension with the good boy maybe going bad, and the bad boy who decides to change directions.

It’s a very pleasing film on a visual level and does convey the manic bustle and also the quiet reflective corners of Mumbai. The use of locations was great and it added a buzz to the scenes out in the streets, as well as the intimate domesticity up on rooftops and balconies as characters looked out on the sprawling city. Ganesh imagery is everywhere, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tilak is able to move on after catching the benign gaze of the god who removes obstacles. It’s a fast paced film that looks and sounds great. The writing is good, and the story is rarely dull. There is a little too much coincidence and some heavy handed visuals but overall I like it a lot.  3/12 stars.