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Down and ‘Dirty’ with Vidya Balan

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Vidya Balan in “The Dirty Picture,” possibly her most challenging role to date.
  • MUMBAI, India

    She’s been on a mission of late — to excel. After consecutive terrific turns in “Paa,” “Ishqiya” and “No One Killed Jessica,” she is into probably one of her most difficult, clutter-breaking, image-smashing role in Milan (she keeps pronouncing his name the way the European city is called!) Luthria’s “The Dirty Picture.”

    Here’s a phoner with Vidya Balan, a lady who can be depended upon for extraordinary essays that blend commerce with innovation.

    Excerpts from an interview:

    Q: “Ishqiya” broke that demure, goody-goody image of Vidya Balan. But “The Dirty Picture” is something else.

    A: Yes, it is a large leap. I put myself out there in the hands of the director and gave it my all — and even more. To state that it is a different character for me is an understatement, so let’s hope that the audience likes it.

    Q: So is it always going to be something different in your films to come?

    A: Well, I have always believed in that. I like to do something that I have not done before. I am doing a very different film called “Kahaani” now. It’s the story of a six-month pregnant woman searching for her husband in Kolkata and is the first thriller of its kind, I think, in Hindi cinema. Normally, it is in supernatural subjects that thrillers are woven around pregnant women! The director is Sujoy Ghosh.

    Every film must have something for me. I am enjoying the fact that meaty roles that are different are being offered to me. That’s why I became an actor in the first place. In any case, the lines are blurring between niche and commercial cinema today.

    Q: So why do you think Milan chose you for this role?

    A: I asked him the same question, and he said, “Wait till you watch the film, then you’ll have your answer!” But when he came to me, despite the slight hesitation I had about doing such a film, I must say that I was thrilled to bits!

    Q: And is it or is it not, a biopic on Silk Smitha, the South siren of the ‘80s who committed suicide some years ago?

    A: Let me put the record straight. “The Dirty Picture” is not based on facts or Silk Smitha’s life. We have used certain incidents from her life and taken her basic character, that’s all. Silk was the first dancing star from South India in the 1980s who was named after a fabric. After her came names like Nylon Nalini and other actresses named after rayon, and so forth. But she is not only the only icon among them but like a hero, and she is naturally popular. You could call this a “fictional biopic,” the way we wove a story around Jessica Lall in “No One Killed Jessica.” Milan and writer Rajat Aroraa simply explored the life of a girl who used her body and sexuality as her ticket to stardom and had no qualms about it. She was a sex-symbol and yet she had that child-like innocence. We had to capture the true spirit of a girl like Silk Smitha.

    Q: So what were your references in working on the character?

    A: The ‘80s. I had to be loud, provocative and suggestive in expression, gestures and body language, completely over-the-top as was the norm then,  Mentally I had to not just uninhibited but also unapologetic about being all this. Milan’s brief was to just be completely bindaas. Of course, the costumes and script-reading sessions helped a lot in making me get into character. 

    Similarly, when we were doing the dance rehearsals, my choreographer Purnima and I first began by just dancing with what she called gay abandon. The idea was to unwind before I actually danced to “Ooh La La,” the Bappi Lahiri rework in the film, so we danced to any and every song, like “Mungda” from “Inkaar.” By the third day, I had let go completely. 

    Q: Did you have a blast doing the role then, or was it draining emotionally? 

    A: It was not emotionally draining. I would call it fulfilling because the girl’s character is very complex. No, complex is too heavy a word — it’s just that she had many shades. As I said, she was child-like and yet a sex-symbol. The one thing she was not is sleazy, and we made sure of that in the film as well.

    Q: The real Silk Smitha committed suicide. Does your film have a similar end?

    A: You know I cannot reveal that! But I would say that “The Dirty Picture” is an uplifting film. 

    Q: How do you rate Milan as a director? We know you are going to rave about him, but can you be specific?

    A: He’s just unbelievable. I am no one to say this, but he is just so relentlessly in pursuit of excellence. He has an uncompromising commitment to what he is doing. If he wants some detail even in costumes, he will allow delays but there will be no pressures or tight schedules, just the pursuit of perfection. 

    The other aspect is how well he balances the real with the dramatic. “The Dirty Picture” could have become a niche film. But he’s made it totally commercial without any aesthetic compromise.

    Q: Don’t you feel that, however unintentionally, the promos make the film look sleazy or titillating enough to scare away a good chunk of the audience?

    A: That’s not the feedback we have received at all. Amidst the serious core, it’s a fun film and people have sensed the masti.

    Q: What explains the title?

    A: The fact that the girl was brazen and everyone focused on that instead of going beyond the body.

    Q: This is your second film with Naseeruddin Shah as co-star after “Ishqiya.” Has there been any evolution in your bonding?

    A: Of course! I am a little less intimidated by him now, but still as impressed. He makes you forget his persona as he becomes Suryakant, the megalomaniac superstar. The ease with which he has enacted the role is amazing. He is so uninhibited in “Ooh La La,” which I think is his first masala song after “Tirchhi Topiwale” in “Tridev” 22 years ago. The interesting thing is that in “Ishqiya,” he was in love with me while Arshad Warsi lusted after me, and here, it is Naseer-saab who is lusting after me!

    Q: Your other co-stars are new for me. Something about them, please?

    A: Oh, Tusshar Kapoor’s great fun. Emraan Hashmi, on the other hand, is a man of few words. But he has such an easy, unhurried, hassle-free persona. His general vibe is of complete ease, and yet he is so good, effortless is the word, when he acts, even as he is understated. Truly cool is the term that best describes him.

    FILMOGRAPHY 

    (HITS/SUCCESSES IN CAPITALS)

    2005 – PARINEETA

    2006 – LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI

    2007 – Eklavya – The Royal Guard, GURU, Salaam-e-Ishq, HEYY BABYY, BHOOL BHULAIYAA

    2008 – Halla Bol, Kismat Konnection

    2009 – PAA

    2010 – ISHQIYA

    2011 – NO ONE KILLED JESSICA, THE DIRTY PICTURE

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