According to imdb, I have to date seen 3 Milan Luthria films. Ok, 4 actually, but I really would rather forget I ever wasted 2 hours of my life to watch Hattrick. So those 3 are: Taxi 9 2 11, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and The Dirty Picture. And at the end of all three I felt like saying Romeo's line: "Oh wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied??". Luthria is a charming storyteller, but it's a crying shame that he can't make up his mind about what he wants to say with his films. Every time I see one I am left with the lingering question: Why did he make this movie? It's a good movie, sure, but... why?
After finishing Taxi 9 2 11 yesterday I commented that it's like a parable, it exists in a surreal world where the characters just... are, without having to justify why they are. You are told about them, and you just accept that they have their own internal logic and their own compulsions that well... you may not necessarily understand. But all will be explained when you get to the moral of the story (which is why I quite liked the ending, surreal as it may be).
Thinking of these other two movies (OUATIM and TDP), I think they also work well as parables. They talk of rises and falls, of right and wrong, of success and failure, and admittedly, they do so in a rather intelligent way. They're like a smart retelling of those children-stories you used to read years ago, with witty princes and fearsome ogres whose existence or raison d'etre you never questioned. You just went with it because that's what the story told you to. But unlike in fairy-tales, with Luthria there is no moral to the story in the end. There is no good to triumph over evil, there is no ogre to be slaughtered, there is no princess whose hand can be won. It's the same style of storytelling that parables use, but just when you get to the end and you're waiting for the punchline, for those last 2 lines that give you the life lesson to be learned, you get cut off.
The Dirty Picture is, admittedly or not, a biopic of the life and times of the South Indian sex-symbol of the 80s, Silk Smitha. Without knowing too much about her life, or having seen any of her films, I can still completely understand why she was a controversial actress. The Dirty Picture does well with showcasing that, and just in case you're slower on the uptake, they even put it into words for you, one of Naseeruddin Shah's best lines in the film: "You're our late night fantasy... that no one wants to talk about in the morning." This goddess of sex that everyone wants a piece of cannot be accepted as part of a society who thinks of itself as virtuous and wholesome.
But after having made this point, The Dirty Picture somehow chickens out when the time comes to hit you with the punchline. If the movie was to be a slap in the face of a public who cannot resolve the cognitive dissonance created by what it really wants and what is proper, then Silk should have triumphed in the end. If on the other hand it wanted to be a commentary on the genesis of a star and its inevitable downfall, then Silk didn't need to be Silk, it could have been any other star, the controversy didn't add anything to the story. As it stands, with its two feet in two different boats, The Dirty Picture leaves you with the truly dirty feeling that, when it's all said and done, this society which gets criticized in the beginning for not owning up to their lechery, is the one and only winner in this film. And as I was saying earlier, that makes me wonder: why tell this story to begin with?
Sure Vidya Balan is absolutely fabulous and truly the queen of our fantasies, whether those fantasies revolve around her generous cleavage or around the belief that a woman can be considered a sex-symbol even without spending grueling hours in the gym every week (I suspect a lot of women watching this will come out with this particular fantasy, as did I). And yes, Nasseruddin Shah is an absolute delight to watch as he lusts, smoulders, boils over and drools over... well, himself really (as much as Silk would like to think it's over her).
It also goes without saying that Ooh La La is a true feast for the eyes on the big screen, even though quite honestly the best version of the song is Tusshar's rendition of it in his bedroom. And I quite enjoy Emraan Hashmi when he's being emo and brooding, even if I will never understand why he just has to sing to at least one song in all of his films whether the film warrants it or not (and whether it's a pretty song or not).
And there's no denying that it's a very well made movie. But while leaving the theatre one can't help but think that despite the clever one-liners and the million bite-size life teachings that make up its script (sometimes in very entertaining ways), the Dirty Picture was robbed of its punchline. And if there IS a moral to the story, it's sadly the same old and boring one: that no matter how high we rise, our existence is meaningless if we don't have the only thing that matters: love.
You know, sometimes I think Bollywood is still terribly nostalgic of itself. In the past month I have seen 2 movies (Rockstar and The Dirty Picture) with a very similar trajectory: the rise and fall of a star who turns out to be nothing without love. I said that The Dirty Picture was a parable without a moral. But if Bollywood itself were to be seen as a story, its moral would be this line from an old song: Ishq bina kya jeena, yaara? (What's the point in living if there is no love?).
Which I find somewhat amusing given that Bollywood has been fighting against its old school love stories for almost a decade now. From making movies like I Hate Luv Storys, to reciting and mocking old love story dialogues in pretty much every other movie, to making a Rockstar and a Dirty Picture, it's like Bollywood can't make up its mind between embracing its love for love or letting go of it. Now don't get me wrong, I adore Rockstar with the burning power of a thousand suns, but sometimes I do think Bollywood is like a teenager, who can see nothing beyond that world of love that it has created for himself/herself. And just like human beings do, I wonder if Bollywood will ever grow up from its teens and realize that there are so many other things worth talking about in life other than love? It's not that I don't think it can move mountains, or that it's the most delightful anchor in one's existence, but let's admit it once and for all that it's not the be all and end all of life. And then move on.
Oh well... The Dirty Picture is still very much worth a watch for Vidya's excellent performance (or for her cleavage, depending on your tastes, of course).
The Dirty Picture (2011)
Director: Milan Luthria
Starring: Vidya Balan, Nasseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi, Tusshar Kapoor
Music: Vishal- Shekhar
Choreography: Pony Prakashraj
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