(Everything here is in my opinion only. You may disagree. I hope you do.)
There are very, very few women actors in Bollywood today who can take a role, make it theirs and deliver a performance that stays with you long after the credits have rolled. The less that is said about the movie The Dirty Picture, the more space that is saved on the internet or on paper. However, the only reason I was able to sit through the movie was Vidya Balan.
I grew up in a time when Silk Smitha seduced the small screen. She was the reason parents in my neighbourhood (and in countless other neighbourhoods) switched the TV channel abruptly in the middle of a song. Given this fact, I was curious to see what justice was done to the character of Silk.
I will place it on record here that Vidya is nothing like Silk – in appearence, in mannerisms, in the sheer veil of sleaze that Silk wore so brazenly. In her most seductive, moaning moments on screen in this move, Vidya is nowhere close to recreating the unique brand of soft porn suggestiveness that belonged to Silk and Silk alone. Well before I walked into the theater, I was disappointed with the choice of actress to portray her, and still maintain that the two are as alike as chalk and cheese.
And yet – I came away with two major revelations.
One – Vidya Balan is a powerhouse. From the initial scene where she manages to outrage an irate neighbour until the closing moments where she confronts grief with a hand that excessive alcohol has rendered unsteady, she lives the role to the hilt – saucy, brash and utterly in control of each emotion. No careless moment of overaction, no one scene where she could have brought just that bit more to the moment – a seamless balance of spontaneity and measured reaction. Each time she faces despair with yet another chain of cigarettes, you can see the dawn of yet another clever, sometimes manipulative, idea on her brow. In spite of a storyline that should have been burnt at birth, I ached for the Silk onscreen when she broke down, begging for human company, and yet a mere two scenes later, she managed to leave me with a trace of guilty shame – dare I pity THE Silk Smitha?
Two – it is possible to take a role and create something else out of it altogether, fitting it around you to take part of your persona. While I watched Vidya sway and swagger on screen, I managed to forget that this was not the quintessential Silk Smitha – well, perhaps except for a couple of moments when her innate classiness owerwhelmed her intended tawdry portrayal of the vamp. What I did take home however was a new version of Silk altogether – and I liked this one; I loved her intensity, her unabashed defence of her image, her fiery comebacks. This was a different kind of appeal. I came away with respect for an actor who moulded the role to herself, delivering the performance of a lifetime. I tried to think of one other actor of today, any peer of hers, who could have played this role with the same level of conviction. I could find no one.
Well done, Vidya Balan. If this is what you can do with a joke of a movie… For God’s sake, woman, take on more roles!