Jenny K: One of the things that so enchants me about watching Indian film is their sheer variety, how sometimes you are enthralled by romance, spectacle and melodrama, and then other times you’re falling out of your chair at the hilarious antics and timing of some of cinema’s best comedians. Yes, I mean you, Paresh Rawal…you even make slapstick palatable for me, you jadugar, you. And the most delightful thing, for me, is that sometimes you get all of that rolled up into one film! Oh, masala, how I miss your spice in your current fall from popularity.
When we went through the few loose end reviews that we had yet to post, I began to see the gamut itself as being worthy of a theme. The films resonate, even when they are serving up touchy issues, offering deliciously spicy biographies, or even are sublimely ridiculous, like Khalnayak, in our in Part 2…you just can’t take your eyes off Hindi film.
Julie M: Finally saw Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996). I appreciated the performances of both Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das and how controversial it was because of the subject matter–not just the lesbian relationship but how much it brought long-ignored women’s issues to the forefront–and it was great to have so much exposure to Jaaved Jaffrey (even though his character was an *ss), but overall, not as great film-wise as either Water (still my fave of the three) or Earth.
Basically I saw it as the story of two lonely and bordering-on-abused (not physically but emotionally) women finding solace in each other and that solace leading to a physical relationship. I didn’t see it as a “lesbian” film, just one about how punishing Indian culture can be on individualism and women in particular, especially less educated ones.
I don’t think either of the characters were actually lesbian–well, maybe the Nandita Das character slightly leaned that way at the beginning–but she was not so much lesbian as wanting more out of life than being a woman in that society and upbringing offered her, and the only way she could translate it into action in her head is to occasionally dress up as and act like a man. Both of them were incredibly physically frustrated in their marital relationships and found an outlet where they could.
Jenny K: Might be interesting to compare it to Albert Nobbs, the way you describe it here. Sounds like some of the same issues are addressed, even if Nandita’s character wasn’t in male dress for as long.
Julie M: It didn’t go far enough, to my mind, in illuminating the underlying social problem nor did it suggest any solutions except getting away. I actually felt that a film like Mrituydand, despite the extra drama, does more to resolve those issues than a film like Fire–which can be written off as a “foreigner” view of India since Deepa Mehta is an NRI. Along those lines I thought this interview was great.
Jenny K: That is an interesting interview with Deepa…I’m sorry she had so much trouble with the Hollywood studio system. But it makes me want to see Camilla. I’m still torn about whether I want to see Fire, but your review makes me consider it more seriously.
Julie M: I think you should see it, if only to complete the trilogy. I should warn you, though, that there is one explicit sex scene. It’s very brief, though–two minutes maximum.
Jenny K: That in itself doesn’t faze me, especially when it’s germane to the plot, which I can’t imagine it not being in a Deepa Mehta film. She always manages to tread the line delicately, telling hard truths and showing painful or controversial scenes with just enough discretion that you don’t feel it’s gratuitous…unlike, say, Rituparno Ghosh’s Antarmahal. No, I’m not going to dignify that one even with a description. Just don’t ever watch it.
[about a week later]
Jenny K: Despite the slap-in-the-face title, The Dirty Picture, this one looks like fun… [Whoever chose the title, did the film a disservice, I think, turning away some who would have probably enjoyed it]. Vidya Balan has all the good roles these days, and she keeps getting love scenes with my man, Naseerji!!! The nerve…I’m quite jealous.
It’s supposed to be a biopic about a South Indian sex symbol named Silk, back in the Wild and Crazy Eighties. Here’s the trailer… Love Naseer’s bad hair dye… this looks like an homage to bad taste in a really hilarious way. I hope the whole thing is like this. Maybe the masala is coming back, in context of an older film world, fingers crossed.
[a week later]
As to my trip to see The Dirty Picture…Naseer or no Naseer, I almost wish I hadn’t seen it. Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting, but it’s so darned negative… First it starts out on a high energy note with Vidya Balan’s Reshma, a poor woman possessed with the idea that she’ll be a big star in pictures and willing to do almost anything to get in.
She has no offers for films, is constantly rejected, but is often offered money to sell herself. Reshma figures that she just has to hold on until she can tap this effect she has on men and put it up there on screen where she can get a better price for it. Eventually she pushes herself forward enough so that she gets a bit part in a dance number with a bullwhip as her dance partner. And the ferociousness of her gaze, her defiance, along with some rather suggestive moves with the handle of said whip, finally gets her noticed, for better or worse.
Next thing Reshma knows, now named “Silk,” has got a hot item number with her favorite movie icon, Superstar Suryakant, an overaged lothario with a suspicious head of hair (sound like anyone in Chennai films? No? RK’s fans seem to think so and are a bit annoyed with the filmmakers). Naseeruddin Shah does a great job as usual, carrying off the loud fashions of the Eighties with panache and humor, but I miss the salt and pepper hair of Today’s Special. I found him much sexier in that one. Perhaps he was going for the slightly ridiculous side of the character and must not have been going for convincing chemistry with Vidya, because it wasn’t really there.
Her chemistry was much better with Emraan Hashmi as the arty director who hates Silk and the kind of films she makes, but who becomes obsessed with her fate toward the end. Nice to see that Emraan can be compelling on screen, because I haven’t found him so in the past. Tusshar Kapoor as Naseer’s younger brother (very, very younger…almost as unbelievable as “Suryakant’s” hair) is very innocent and occasionally quite hilarious as in his deliriously wacky re-do of an earlier Silk and Surya dance number “Oooh La La”, after she kisses him for the first time. I keep remembering him as the very serious young police officer in Khakee, and am glad to see he can kick up his heels effectively. Here’s the trailer of the number he’s copying, couldn’t find Tusshar’s.
Vidya is as wonderful as everyone says…definite award winner for the next Filmfare go-around. If you wanted to read more about the real-life woman, Silk Smitha, here’s an article on her life.
As Silk, Vidya glitters, but the script is so chopped up, even at 144 minutes, that you feel like there isn’t enough background shown to detail any of why her life turned out the way it did, how the relationships in her life progressed and how they ultimately failed her. I especially wanted more story with her mother. People were introduced into her storyline and then just disappeared without explanation…or brought back, too late, still without explanation. Both Vidya and Silk deserved better support.
Julie M: Despite your negative review I still want to see it on DVD when it comes out. Vidya is practically unrecognizable as herself, but she seems like she did a great job. I’ll watch her in anything, after seeing her fantastic performance in Bhool Bhulaiyaa. And I would like to draw comparisons to a fabulous American film I saw a while back, The Notorious Bettie Page, biopic of the 1950s pinup model known for doing pretty much anything in her photos while still retaining the look of wholesome chastity.
Jenny K: So…next post, we continue with our salute to the spice of variety…Come on back, and if you like, let us know your favorites.