A Dirty Picture’s Self-Referential Success

Posted on June 5, 2012 in Culture-Vulture

By Sanchita Khurana:

A pert Silk Smitha played by Vidya Balan, beaten but defiant on a sea-beach, mocks the ambitious actor-director played by Emraan Hashmi at his inability to survive without her. Almost like the message of “The Dirty Picture”, the scene, climactic in all senses, becomes an allegory of sorts turning the two characters into representatives of types, not of persons but of cinema; and by extension, of art. To make it easier to glide by, let’s stick to cinema. Considering the rage the Milan Luthria movie has been, I am willing to skip a word-by-word plotline. Many have seen it, most have enjoyed it; there are none that haven’t known its provocative newness. To me, the movie presents a striking example of meta-commentary, referring constantly to itself in all particularity and generality.

A perfect fusion of form and content, “The Dirty Picture” appears like a comment on the inseparability of two types of cinema- the bawdy and the unthinking; and the political and the thought-provoking. Noticeably presented as opposites, both Silk and Abraham move on their own trajectories to achieve “success” in the world of cinema. It appears initially that where one wins, the other will necessarily have to lose- it seems that Silk, the symbol of the sensuous in art (in our case movies), is at loggerheads with the angry, moralistic Abraham. However, as is seen towards the end, personalities mingle, types fade, and trajectories merge. Where Silk fails because of “thinking” too much, Abraham wins the survival war because of adding sensuality to story. Where pornography has no story, and must fail because of its unthinking bodily indulgence, commercial movies like those of director Mahesh Bhatt (and Abraham) have a storyline which must however add to it elements of the sensuous. Without it, there is no entertainment. And entertainment, as has been made very clear by our “protagonist” in the movie, is what makes movies work in Bollywood.

The huge success of “The Dirty Picture” turns out an interesting track to trace. Even as it casts brilliant “artists” to convey the message contained in it, and even as the storyline is importantly biographical, is it surprising that the catchiest and the best-selling point of the movie is the song “Ooh la la” with a rather heavyset Vidya dancing in cheap, flashy Indian wear with the ageing Naseeruddin Shah? Similar to the whiplash dancing scene that Silk’s Tamil director uses to sell the movie-within-the-movie?

“The Dirty Picture” would have to be a dirty picture to talk about dirty pictures. The antagonism of thoughtful and erotic, artful and material, must I say rational and irrational, is not only shattered but proven to exist only in so far as both categories (of cinema here) complement one another. One cannot be without the other. Just like Abraham’s strictly thoughtful movies do not cater to the coarseness of the daily life of the masses, the thoughtlessness of Silk’s prurient art proves after some time to be shallow and degenerative. In form and in content, the movie shows how it is impossible to extricate one type of film-making from the other. The successful movie director characterised by an actor who ironically himself is known for explicit scenes, falls in love with Silk (and what she represents) and incorporates it in his recipe for a successful film.

Clearly, Milan Luthria’s meta-commentary becomes propagative of moderation and blending here. Too much physicality will end itself (Silk has to die in the movie) just as too much moralising will fail and resort to sensual escapes. A perfect director will be one who blends the two in the right amount, like Abraham, like Luthria, and the perfect movie will be “The Dirty Picture”, conveying and provoking as well as selling and arousing, while of course entertaining!