Smooth as Silk

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Smooth as Silk

It’s sultry, it’s sassy and, best of all, it’s coming our way, Vidya Balan speaks to City Times ahead of The Dirty Picture’s Dubai release

By David Light (

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Published: Mon 28 Nov 2011, 12:02 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:16 AM

AS EACH WEEKEND approaches the Bollywood machine rolls out yet another film for the vast Dubai audience’s approval, hoping to make a mark on the cinematic landscape for at least the opening few days. Each of these movies usually carries the requisite amount of action, romance, comedy and song to satiate the paying crowd’s appetite for ‘masala’ before it is carted off to the big celluloid vault in the sky on a Sunday morning.

However, there are times, rare as they may be, when the anticipation of a film’s release reaches such a point that even the casual Indian film industry observer realises that the people behind the work are on to something special.

The Dirty Picture is such a film. Since the promotional material was unveiled in Mumbai in September, newspaper columns, talk shows and Internet discussions have been awash with speculation and conjecture on not ‘if’ this piece of cinema will be a success, but ‘how’ critically and commercially acclaimed it will eventually become.

For what you get in The Dirty Picture is arguably Bollywood’s best actress staring in a big-budget semi-biographical film inspired by the life of the enigmatic and alluring 80s south Indian film star and sex symbol Silk Smitha. And if that doesn’t send punters flocking to the multiplex on Thursday, nothing will.

Incredibly beautiful and equally talented Vidya Balan’s title of most sought after actress has been garnered through dedication to her craft and unconventional character choices.

Playing mother to the 69-year-old Amitabh Bachchan in R. Balki’s family drama Paa and the crusading sister of Jessica Lall in political thriller No One Killed Jessica have resulted in accolades that endear commentators to regard her every move as inspired, not least her latest decision to take up the mantle of reimagining The Dirty Picture’s controversial heroine on the big screen.

“Her ticket to stardom was her brazenness and the use of her body,” Vidya told us about Silk Smitha, the character she plays. During a phone interview from India’s movie making epicentre she continued, “She thought ‘I like my body, you like to watch my body, so this is something we can all enjoy.’”

While the protagonist of The Dirty Picture is called Silk Smitha, Vidya intoned that the film only borrows her name and a few aspects of her life to convey the story. Yet, the 33-year-old actress wanted to portray the icon as accurately as possible both aesthetically and in the communication of her charm and charisma.

“She was a ‘bindaas’ character. She said what she liked and did what she liked and I found that most interesting about her. We have very few people in the world that live their lives exactly as they want to and that was extremely inspiring. It was an irresistible prospect to play a character like that. We all remember Silk for being as sexual as a woman can get.”

When signing on for the part Vidya was told she would have to put on weight to properly reflect the more voluptuous shapes of the actresses of the time – a proposition that she was initially reluctant to go along with.

“I eventually put on 12 kilograms for the role. I gained a little at a time to see how much looked fine. It’s easy to put on weight, but it’s difficult to lose it and at first I didn’t want to put myself through that. I couldn’t have done a 80s southern actress justice if I didn’t do it though. They were buxom and I had to go the whole hog. I’m well endowed myself, but I still needed to get that shape.”

If you were around then or even if you’ve watched television serials including the second season of the British Life on Mars or films such as The Wedding Singer, you’ll know that, like all ages, the 1980s had distinct style to it.

“I loved the period,” Vidya said. “Big sunglasses and big, colourful clothes dominated and it was so much fun getting into the costumes and subsequently falling into the time frame. I had a lot of input into my outfits and I got to live out my fantasy in that respect as I would have loved to have been my age at that time.”

There was a suggestion early on in production that the title The Dirty Picture may prove a little racy for the public and the censors alike. While the initial reaction has been nothing but positive, it was put to Vidya whether she expects any criticism. The star replied that she welcomes any constructive comments, but challenges anyone to remark on the movie’s morality stating she has just been honest to the script, which has been expertly put together.

It could be put forward that the tremendous response has simply stemmed from Vidya’s involvement. Quite unique in Bollywood, the actress does not attract much prying into her personal affairs with the media solely focussing on her work. On this issue Viday stated, “I enjoy being in the spotlight, but there are some things that are personal and I want to keep it like that. Just as much as I wouldn’t publicise something like a tiff I had with my mother, for example, I won’t publicise anything about my personal life.

“The media has respected my space. If there is any speculation I am honest about it, which is why not much comes up.”

After the release of The Dirty Picture Vidya will next be seen in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani.

“It’s a thriller set in Kolkata,” she explained. “A six-month pregnant woman comes in from London to search for her husband. There aren’t too many supernatural thrillers in Bollywood, but this is one.

“The whole reason I became an actor is to challenge myself. I never want to repeat the same role. To get the opportunity to live extremely divergent people on screen, I’m making the most of these times. There is an urge in me to be different,” the versatile star concluded.

Who is Slik Smitha?

With 450 films to her name and a career spanning 17 years, Silk was the original item girl. In the conservative world of 80s Indian cinema, Silk (real name Vijayalakshmi) tore up the rule book by performing eyebrow-raising song and dance numbers in a variety of southern films. Outraging public morality, however, took a backseat to how much business she could command for the movies she appeared in, hence the enormous number that bear her name.

At the peak of her career Silk earned more money than many of her counterparts combined – a fact that led to her establishing her own production house. Yet, this move is said to have ultimately contributed to Silk’s downfall as it is alleged the unsuccessful business venture, combined with a turbulent love life and a string of dependencies caused her to take her own life in Chennai in 1996 although this hypothesis is still shrouded in mystery.

Today Silk Smitha is seen as a revolutionary. A celebration of women’s independence, The Dirty Picture looks to honour her life by opening in India on December 2, which would have been Silk’s 51st birthday.

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