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Censorship

Daring Paoli Dam, in a scene from the movie, ‘Chhatrak (Mushroom)’.

Vimukthi is one of the most talented filmmakers in Sri Lanka today. However, his film may never get past the tough censor board, and will most likely, not be screened in India.

Some sections of the society question if such films have been made solely in the interest of the foreign audience, and if such portrayals help in augmenting a skewered image of the country. Bengali actress, Paoli Dam, who has done an intimate love scene in the buff in Chhatrak (Mushroom), has gone to town about the episode. “Nobody from Bollywood or Tollywood has done something like this, and I had no frame of reference to work with,” says the dusky and sensuous Paoli. She goes on to say that she spent a lot of time with Vimukthi.

“We discussed the film as a whole and then zeroed in on the intimate scenes. It is a political comment which goes much beyond the oral sex portrayed in it.” The film is making the rounds in international film festivals, beginning with Cannes this year.

Vidya Balan is quite at ease with her role as Silk Smitha, the item-dance girl who helped the box-office coffers of many southern films jingle with her oomph, despite having a body far removed from today’s fashionable size zero figure. She was extremely popular in south Indian
regional cinema, her films mostly classified as soft porn. But, by naming a film purportedly on her life as a celebration of her contribution to regional cinema, does The Dirty Picture exactly qualify as a tribute?

On the morning of September 23, 1996, Smitha was found dead in her home in Saligramam, Chennai’s tinsel town, hanging from the ceiling fan in her bedroom. Her success had also turned into her biggest defeat because she was involved in distatrous relationships and had became alcohol dependant. The end came when her first production venture reportedly washed out her bank balance.

One has no idea whether The Dirty Picture will portray this story, include her death, or turn her into a survivor. Ekta Kapoor, producer of the film, tagged the film as a fictitious life story of Silk Smitha, but she could easily have allowed the film to stand on its own. One wonders how director Milan Luthra is tackling the relationships Silk Smitha had with the men in her life.

A dead sex symbol throws up every scope for sensationalising a tragedy and using titillation abundantly.

The name, The Dirty Picture, rankles especially because Silk Smitha is not around to defend the privacy she is entitled to. In an interview last year, Ekta Kapoor said, “I’ve been waiting for almost two years for the script to be ready. Now my writer, Rajat Arora, has finally put the finishing touches to the story of a woman who defied all conventions to become a sensation in the south, but eventually committed suicide. This will be my most exhilarating and powerful production ever. It’s about women’s empowerment and the loneliness behind stardom.” Really? The pin-ups of Vidya Balan, who has put on weight for an abundant cleavage, spell a different tale. And talking about women’s empowerment, Ekta Kapoor began the trend of the regressive woman via the saas-bahu serials.

Questions may also arise if Indian films should portray scenes of intimacy. Ranabir Lahiri, professor, Bijoygarh College, Kolkata, wrote in an article that representation of female sexuality “operates not merely outside the pale of socially sanctioned ties but is radically freed from all taboos that control the female body and its desires.” They do exist within the cultural matrix of women’s representation in India, but not as abundantly as women devoted to their maternal and domestic duties are. None of these films are ‘dirty’ in the common understanding of the word. But, some sections of the audience might read them differently as ‘dirty’. They are the filmmakers’ choice for expressing their aesthetics, their politics and their social convictions in their own language — cinema.

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