The new biopic of ‘pioneering’ porn star Linda Lovelace wants it both ways – (the) film fetishises the 70s porn style, then tuts at all the exploitation.
Which is the case with The Dirty Picture, as I see it. Everybody I knew enjoyed the film – some watching it multiple times – and they all had their own professed reasons: some liked the ‘punchy’ dialogue, while others the songs (these were mostly people who grew up in the 80s). And of course, there was the fact that you got the chance to see skin on the screen without being made to feel guilty about it.
Both films are based on the lives of real women who were in exploitative films and both are set in an era where fashion and music were very different from current trends – Lovelace in the 70s and TDP in the 80s. Watching TDP, I certainly felt that the actors and directors (even the music directors and singers) spent more time having fun with the retro portion – planning out song picturisation sequences and lyrics – rather than working on the script or dialogue. It makes sense; everybody loves playing dress up, even actors, and the more outlandish, the better. I guess that has something to do with why actors love doing period films.
Worse than that, though, I found the direction to be too heavy handed – as just one example (it’s the only one I can recall now):
Naseerudin Shah’s character, the aging superstar Suryakant, is feeling threatened by the rise of his mistress Silk (that name is another rant that I won’t get into now). At one point, he’s just given an interview to a journalist from a film magazine. He’s assured it’ll appear in the next issue. He hears that the magazine also sent a journalist to Silk’s house for a few photos. When the issue comes out, he asks his PA to find his interview. Instead, the PA finds Silk’s multipage photos pread.
Now, Suryakant has been established as a man with a big ego. At the end of the above scene, when the PA asks him what’s wrong, I fully expected him to say, ‘Nothing,’ even though it’s obvious to us what’s wrong – his interview has been dumped in favour of Silk’s photo spread.
Instead, Suryakant with the gigantic ego admits to his PA that he has been supplanted by Silk – saying something like, ‘Yaar, the magazine promised to run my interview, but they didn’t!’
Which was a superfluous line, and completely out of character. There are other instances of the ‘heavy’ directing – notably, characters speaking their thoughts out loud in single line soliloquys – which, WHY? They went out of fashion in the late 18th century! And even then, they made some sense in plays, but in films, you have the choice of voice overs to express thoughts. Which was horribly overused by Emran Hashmi’s character, anyway, so it’s not like the director doesn’t know voice overs exist.
It annoys me that filmmakers seem to think the audience is made of idiots who won’t understand anything unless its over-emphasised.
Worst of all though, was the fact that TDP tried – and succeeded – in having its cake and eating it, too. In the beginning of the film, it draws people in with the skin show – which is sleazy, but protected under the shield of ‘it’s a mirror of it’s times, it’s meant to be sleazy’ – and the retro songs and the snappy, puerile dialogue.
In the second half, it raps the same people on their knuckles, saying, ‘Did you enjoy the sleaze? Well then, shame on you, you’re the reason why Indian society is so screwed up and repressed!’
The worst part is that it succeeded – a lot people I saw the film with left saying things like, ‘Oh yes, it’s true, Indian society is to blame for all the Silks and the Mallika Sherawats…if there was no one to watch their films or songs, they wouldn’t be in business.’ Completely ignoring the fact that they’d just seen an exploitative film.
Compare this with ‘Heroine‘, which, while touching on a similar subject, takes a different route. The protagonist of ‘Heroine’ is desperate to promote her only film, so she releases a homemade, self filmed sex film. We’re shown it being filmed (via mobile) but it doesn’t cross into the sleaze category. While TDP is exploitative, ‘Heroine’, for all its faults, is not.
(And yes, ‘Heroine’ is a horrible, boring movie, as well. The Sidney Sheldon-eque plot, the melodrama, the half baked Freudian excuses for the protagonist behaving the way she does – it goes on.)
I wonder when Indian mainstream films are finally going to grow up.