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Films of the Decade: Why The Dirty Picture Represents the Year 2011 in Hindi Cinema

Image: Youtube/ A still from 'The Dirty Picture'

Image: Youtube/ A still from 'The Dirty Picture'

Directed by Milan Luthria, the Dirty Picture is a shrewd commentary on the double standards that still very much exist for women in the film industry.

Bollywood has a long history of objectifying women. Almost every part of their bodies, from cleavages to legs, have often been the focal point for cameras charting the male gaze, for titillation, and always in the name of entertainment.

In fact, it's been so normalised and societal conditioning has been such that sometimes we even fail to notice that it's happening.

But in 2011, Vidya Balan-starrer The Dirty Picture ripped this mask of hypocrisy off Bollywood as it presented the audience with an unapologetic yet heart-wrenching story of a woman who transcends her surroundings, takes on the big dogs of the film industry, but unfortunately, succumbs to the extraordinary pressures of her career.

The Dirty Picture stresses on the sensational events to chronicle Reshma aka Silk's journey from a nobody to a sex symbol to a tragic star. More than anything else in her life, Silk wants to be taken seriously as an actress, but no one really seems to care about her talent, forcing her to do parts that are only meant to please men.

Soon, she becomes the subject of gossip in Page 3 columns, with only sultry and erotic roles coming her way. But Silk takes pride in her work and is never ashamed of what she is doing. The interesting thing about The Dirty Picture is to watch Vidya Balan skilfully avoid all of the entrapments of the script. She nails Silk's playful, wacky insouciance in the space of just a few minutes.

Directed by Milan Luthria and produced by Ekta Kapoor, the film is a shrewd commentary on the double standards that still very much exist for women in the film industry. Silk, however, puts on a brave face through all the hardships that women have to face every day, not just in this industry but the entire country - sexual exploitation, abusive relationships, sexual objectification, among other.

One of the most moving parts of the film is a brief monologue that comes just before the interval, where Vidya brilliantly portrays how Silk can be tough, sarcastic and glamorous, all at the same time while showing a seasoned actor (played by Naseeruddin Shah) his true place.

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In the scene, Silk confronts instances of sexism openly at an awards show as the audience watches her transformation into a completely fearless person. She says, coldly, "I was called vulgar, disgusting, sexy and what not. Just so someone's film could take off, I was used as a boarding pass. And, yet over and over people say I'm vulgar. You made me dance but neither did you notice my effort nor my sincerity. You were busy noticing something else. Yet you label me disgusting. You can make films about sex; sell them; watch them; show them; even present awards to them but you're scared of acknowledging them. You can continue wrapping your head with your so-called honour, I will continue making my dirty pictures."

This particular scene feels not only earned, but empowering. It makes Silk feel comfortable in her own skin again, so that the next time someone tries to take advantage of her, she doesn't feel as helpless or hopeless as she might have felt before.

The film also gives Vidya an opportunity to mouth some heavy-loaded dialogues unlike other Bollywood films where men do most of the talking. During the promotions of The Dirty Picture, Vidya had spoken at length about how working on this movie was a liberating experience for her.

"I have never enjoyed being a woman more than in the Dirty Picture. It celebrates the woman like a rainbow in all the colours. I enjoyed the fact that for the first time, I was getting to mouth dialogues like heroes did in the 80s in films like Shahenshah. I felt an actress getting to mouth such dialogues was incredible," the actress had said.

Ask to sum up my response to the film, I will just say, "a big game-changer!"