Abstract : The Dirty Picture is a film that ruled the roost in the year 2011 along with Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara. Unlike the latter the former ruled the roost not only in the industry, the media, the awards, the critics and the crowd, it also brought in huge amounts of money for the producers unprecedented for such a star cast. There was undoubtedly only one winner unanimously selected by the award committee for the category of best female actor and that is Vidya Balan who enacted the role of a starlet of the 80s’ in the South Indian filmdom. It is also noteworthy that the film did not win any awards in the best film category. The film therefore raises a few questions related to film appreciation. Why the film which is popular and commercially successful couldn’t tap in on artistic merit – the film as an art? Why the film that drew the crowd didn’t hold their attention beyond the acting skills of the actress? Was the film inherently flawed in spite of the colourful setting, famed and seasoned actors, punch lines, steamy scenes and touching story? Was the film perceived by the audience the way it would have been perceived three decades ago? Did the audience relate to the actress Vidya Balan or the character Silk more? What were the roused emotions of the film? These questions can be answered from the point of view of the ancient Indian aesthetic theory.
Keywords : Rasa theory, Dhvani theory, Indian Reception Theory (Aucitya), dirty pictures, indian aesthetic theory, Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara, Indian film industry, films’ representation of women
The paper consists of three parts
- It discusses the film as a trendsetting popular film – reflecting popular culture
- It discusses the semiotics of the film in terms of suggestion (dhvani) theory
- It discusses the dramaturgy of perception in terms of rasa theory.
As representing popular culture – purely entertaining and titillating – visuals in compliance with the trends of the gen-next. As trendsetting – positive signs of the rise of women power.
As evaluating in terms of suggestion theory – identify suggestors
– use of body visuals – colours – the confidence and innocence that liberates and bares in the initial part – the diffidence and self – doubt that degenerates and obliviates in the final part .
As appreciating in terms of rasa theory – evoking at once srngara and bhibhatsa – example of rasabhasa. Being biopic rasa is transferred through the character – the actor – the audience. Audience –perception as individual and at the same time as family.
The Dirty Picture is a film that ruled the roost in the year 2011 along with Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara. Unlike the latter the former ruled the roost not only in the industry, the media, the awards, the critics and the crowd, it also brought in huge amounts of money for the producers unprecedented for such a star cast. There was undoubtedly only one winner unanimously selected by the award committee for the category of best female actor and that is Vidya Balan who enacted the role of a starlet of the 80s’ in the South Indian filmdom. It is also noteworthy that the film did not win any awards in the best film category. The film therefore raises a few questions related to film appreciation. Why the film which is popular and commercially successful couldn’t tap in on artistic merit – the film as an art? Why the film that drew the crowd didn’t hold their attention beyond the acting skills of the actress? Was the film inherently flawed in spite of the colourful setting, famed and seasoned actors, punch lines, steamy scenes and touching story? Was the film perceived by the audience the way it would have been perceived three decades ago? Did the audience relate to the actress Vidya Balan or the character Silk more? What were the roused emotions of the film? These questions can be answered from the point of view of the ancient Indian aesthetic theory.
The Film as a Trendsetter
There is no doubt that the film has ruffled a few feathers. An industry that firmly relied on the stronghold of the male Khans’ and loosely on the Kapoor clan seems to find new sustenance in female actors and stories with bold portrayals of women. Films like Fashion, Saat Khoon Maaf, Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara and The Dirty Picture give substantial acting potential for the Hindi actresses like Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Vidya Balan. The current crop of heroines possesses the courage to shoulder the outcome of the film and the attitude to get totally into the skin of the character they enact. The season of the demure actresses and such roles are out to be replaced by dedicated breed of actresses all set to give a run for the money against the ruling big shots. The Dirty Picture is an example of how the heroine saves the picture from becoming a disaster not only by itself but as a character in the story too. Noted film critic Mayank Shekhar has commented in Hindustan Times (Mumbai, Dec 02, 2011): “Just a few smart male actors can completely change the face of a commercial, star-driven film industry. Looking at the one playing the female protagonist here, Vidya Balan – Paa, Ishqia, No One Killed Jessica and this – it appears that change could well originate from the leading lady instead”.
In the film an ambitious starlet Reshma runs away from home not succumbing to a forced marriage. She circuits the film world as an extra artist all the while awaiting a chance to enthral the film fraternity with her acting skills. She lands the opportunity to be on the centre stage on a momentous occasion but the part is deleted from the film when it reaches the theatre. The film that dips in the success indices becomes a roaring success when an afterthought on the part of the producer introduces Reshma’s now renamed Silk’s part. She becomes the saving grace of many films by losing her grace acting the disgraceful roles for which she now becomes a synonym. Of the many such coincidences between the real film and the reel film, Vidya Balan who has thrown a challenge to the male dominated film industry resembles Silk who once had the film industry eating out of her hands. Both arrive at the industry without a Godfather. Vidya Balan is an actress who has the same passion for movies as her on-screen persona Silk. But fortunately for Vidya, she is articulate, educated and has launched herself at a time when vamp like roles are willingly played by heroines. The perception of audience too, unlike the 80s’, have changed with abundant media exposure – the multitudinous channels, internet and mobiles and are more discerning and serious about the shooting nuances of a film. The film is therefore a trendsetter positing a query at the producers and directors for searching alternate ways of casting that will lead a film to success.
Before discussing the Indian view of sentiments evoked in the film, the progression of the character Silk in the story needs to be outlined. The story is not of a small town girl who by chance ended as an actress, but the film is that of a small town girl who deliberately ended as an actress of her own choice enacting roles for which she knows she is best suited. In the name giving ceremony of the new actress the Asssociate Producer names her Silk the English term for Reshma. She calls him worm or Keeda. In fact she is the worm who has only evolved partially and her entry status as well as the men in the film world never allows her to mature into a full-fledged butterfly. She is forever condemned to the dark alleys of film industry. So at the end though she purges herself through self-realisation, is unable to liberate herself and commits suicide. There are two parts to her life. She is a woman who has boldly runaway from an unwilling marriage. She has withstood poverty and squalor at home, come back with more determination after being sent home without chance in films, and controls her life even in her choices of men. The lasso act that took Silk to stardom, is used as a whiplash to thrash the society for their double standards as well as like a rein to control the entertainment industry. But the earlier down to earth girl with a cocky attitude now blooms larger than life and rises above herself riding high on a wave of admiration with arrogance. When the wave wanes and she realizes that the admiration was only adulation she seeks her roots on earth. Bereft of the men, both the supporting actors and the spectators, she sees herself as who she is. She still is the keeda or the worm that once chose to lie on the silken bed but now lies in the gutter. Self-loathing is so intense that the only liberation is death. The term love has no meaning for her and she does not care to let it redeem her. When Silk entered the industry she was seeking to liberate herself— from the shackles of poverty, disgrace and lack of identity. Only when she considers her act as shameful does her downfall start. Coincidentally, Vidya Balan often in her interviews reiterates that for her the enactment of the role of Silk was liberating. She too had to shun the image of a traditional Bengali housewife in films like Parineeta.
Another aspect of characterisation of the film is that of the three men in Silk’s life. In the film, once Silk is in the public arena, she involves herself with three men. The three men are the three kinds of response she gets from the public. Suryakant enacted by Nasirudeen Shah is the leading actor of South Indian film industry and he represents those mature men, the experienced ones who feed on her image, find sustenance in her privately but are ready to shun and disown her publicly. They are the jackal in lamb’s cloths upholding her as the epitome of vice and immorality to keep their public image untarnished. Audiences like them see her films as sleazy but entertainment worth their money. Ramakant is the younger brother of Suryakant and the role is played by Tushaar Kapoor. He represents the fawning younger generation who is easily led by the latest fads and so is gullible and at the same time fickle and weak. These audiences remain loyal to her, even ready to lay their lives but only so for the three hours they see the movie or till the next Nylon come. Abraham is Emraan Hashmi the upcoming director, novice from a film institute, his mind full of visions of a wellmade film in the lines of film auteurs. He loathes Silk and the industry that queues up behind her. He represents the art lovers, the film critics who want the industry to grow beyond mere entertainment of which Silk is symbolic. They would know ideally which picture sensitizes and which picture sensationalises.
The Sentiments of the Film
The film though a box office success is not a well crafted one as it is more noticed for what it lacks than what it packs. These lacunae in the film can be ideally located with the help of Indian aesthetic theory or rasadhvani theory. It can be stated that based on the rasa theory the srngara rasa permeates the initial half of the film and the bibhatsa rasa courses through the final half of the film. It is due to the lack of correlation between the causes, effects and the accessory emotions, and the vacuum in the place of objective correlative in delineating the rasas do the film fail. In order to substantiate the point, the rasa theory, the srngara rasa, as posited by Bharata in Natyasastra and its evolution down the ages especially at the hands of Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta needs to be reviewed.
Of all the rasas, srngara is the first rasa. It has two phases, sambhoga (love in union) and vipralambha (love in separation). But according to the Samgitasudhakara of King Haripaladeva, there are three: srngara, sambhoga and vipralambha. He classifies the love that is present in all living beings a pleasure that is fulfilled mutually, as sambhoga. The love of the unrefined (nicha prakrti) including birds and beasts, are considered rasabhasa. The love denoted by srngara exists for uttama prakritis or high class individuals and it is eternal (anitya) and kvacitka. The love in separation is vipralambha. Haripala names ahlada as the sthayi of srngara, rati of sambhoga and arati of vipralambha. Alongside the classification of srngara rasa one must dwell on rasabhasa too. Simhabhupala in Rasarnavasudhakara remarks that anaucitya is the only cause of a rasa becoming its abhasa. He says that anaucitya is of two kinds – asatyatva and ayogyatva. The love described in images of nature is asatyatva and the love in the uncouth, unrefined people, birds and beast is ayogyatva. In delineating the rasa in the film The Dirty Picture, the love of silk does not degenerate to rasabhasa because the practical love elicited by the pairs be it Silk and Suryakant, and Silk and Abraham belongs to the category of pleasure that is fulfilled mutually, namely sambhoga srngara. The film also caters to this kind of love in union by fulfilling the requirements of srngara as mentioned by Bharat . In Chapter 6, he says that srngara is caused by speech (vac), dress (nepathya), and physical action (kriya) which corresponds to three forms of abhinaya – vacika, aharya and angika. The film testifies to the effect created by the setting, the costume, the motley characters, the properties and the remarkable histrionic skills of the leading characters in suggesting the sthayi rati of love in union.
In the film, the feeling of love that rises give way to disgust with jugupsa as the sthayin. Devoid of the vibhavas of srngara and Silk’s life edging on to darkness, the vibhavas of bibhatsa rises. The uddipana vibhavas such as the dark rooms, shady places and the dirty streets and the alambana vibhavas such as strange men evoke the feeling of disgust in the spectator as well as the character. Silk is fuming with self loathing and in her drugged state as she walks through the street clad in skimpy clothes amongst ordinarily dressed men and women, she realises that her case is beyond redemption. She hasn’t achieved the mental peace that ordinary folks possess. From atma rati (self love) she reaches the mental state of atma dvesha (self loathing). Srngara rasa fades and bibhatsa rasa sets in when in her hazy state she bends to look at her body flab. With the upsurge of jugupsa, tragedy sets in. But in the film this does not so happen as bibhatsa rasa is not transformed into sadharanikarana (universalisation) either through karuna rasa or through santa rasa. The tragedy that should have been evoked out of the unrequited love of Silk and Abraham fails to do so as there are no proper suggestors or objective correlatives of vipralambha srngara (love in separation) nor karuna rasa evoked out of Silk’s yearning for parental love. In highlighting the entertainment value of portraying the tumultuous life of a small town girl the story gives up on the sentimental value of human life. In short the film lacks a rasa (an emotional state) that is pradhana (dominant).
The Indian Reception Theory (aucitya) and The Dirty Picture
In Sanskrit aesthetics, there are concepts regarding the spectators’ reception of dramatisation or poetic description of love in union between a man and a woman. In Kumarasambhava, 8th Sarga, Kalidasa describes the union between Lord Siva and Parvati. The critics of that period and the ensuing ones left out that part while annotating. One such critic Dakshinavarthanathan comments that he desists from delineating the lines as it is a description of the union between sacred figures Siva and Parvati. Arunagirinathan refutes this opinion and remarks that the comment made by Dakshinavarthanathan is due to ignorance. The actors play our roles of uttama nayaka (virtuous men). Only those who see this as real will consider it improper. Others will perceive the actions only as a stuthi or praise to the divine couple. The purpose of the scene is only an attempt to address the karma of conceiving Lord Kumara as an illusion. Hence according to dhvanikara Anandavardhana the scene is not improper (anaucitya). The purpose of the play i.e, the birth of Kumara to slay the Asura, restores its propriety and hence there is no rasabhanga.
The question then arises as to whether one feels srngara rasa if it is understood that what one sees is merely an illusion. The intention of the play which gives rise to the vira rasa itself is enough to appeal or satisfy the sahrdayas. Similar is the instance of Radha Krishna union in Vrindavan. The rasika who comprehend the inner meaning of the rasalila or love play will be content with the bhakthi sentiment evoked by being aware of the physical union as spiritual union. But according to Anandavardhana this description is improper in other divine beings as they are revered and so it will cause shame. In The Dirty Picture, the suggestive acts of Vidya Balan does not arouse shame as the audience are aware of the film’s purpose, which though the character professes to be entertainment, is also a biopic, a pathetic story of an unfortunate wayward ambitious girl. The audience therefore receive the picture dually – objectively – long shot – as an actual story put up on a set and subjectively – close up – as an object to be desired, like the rest of the cast in the film does. The film not only objectifies body but also induces objectivity of perception so that the audience within and without of the film feel that the eloquent action and verbal appeal of the actress justify her role and attitude thereby the audience can sympathise but not empathise. Natyasastra underscores the way as how to achieve this objectivity. It can be achieved by making the audience realise over and over again that the character belongs to a particular class through the blaring colours, the sequenced revealing dresses, the body language and facial expressions and the sound effects.
Propriety can be maintained with the audience if the seven obstacles of delineating rasa are overcome says Abhinavagupta in his Abhinavabharathi. A detailed analysis of the seven obstacles would bring out the merit of the film The Dirty Picture. First obstacle to be overcome is to endear the character in the audiences’ mind. The makers of The Dirty Picture do this by giving publicity that it is the story resembling yesteryear actress Silk Smitha. The second obstacle is that the reception of the audience might be divergent as some may refuse to enter the sentiments of the character fearing loss of control on oneself, some may welcome the onslaught of sentiments, some may hide from it or some may proclaim it. These may cause obstacle in the perception of the sentiment. In The Dirty Picture the audience having known the story of the biopic come with expectations. But the picturisation is so gaudy that it may repel a section of the spectators. The latter half where the character Silk becomes an addict to alcohol, her arrogant antics at parties, gate-crashing parties, gradual move towards the underbelly of rackets and ignominy and the distorted physical appearance may again repel the audience. This repulsion in fact overrides as jugupsa whereas rati is not established in the form of vipralambha referring to the separation of Silk and Abraham. The third obstacle to overcome is to entice the audience from his introspection to the film and it is achieved by the three different songs, dialogues, settings, fast paced action and the varied anubhavas. The fourth and fifth obstacle is the failure to suitably represent action through vibhavadi or objective correlatives. The film fails to overcome this obstacle as the delineation of rasa is not pradhana or dominant, be it srngara or bibhatsa. That leads to the sixth obstacle which is the subordination of the main sentiment which in this case is directly linked to the underdevelopment of the vibhavas and anubhavas to project the main rasa and lead it to visranti. The objective correlative does not measure up to the questions why she gave up every hope, who is her enemy – the industry or the society, her relations with mother and director Abraham. The seventh obstacle is again the lack of correlation between vyabhicari (floating feelings) and its evoked rasa. The film generally evokes the suggestive relations between them but in the final part the lack of correlation stands out. In real life it could remain mysterious, but in art it suits aesthetic sensibility to bring about a justifiable culmination which could make the tragedy tragic.
Another interesting feature of Indian aesthetics is the question regarding whose sentiment is being enacted. Is it the sentiments of the character, the actor or the spectator? Sankuka the exponent of Anumiti theory says that the audience react to the sentiments of the reel images like a person who sees diamond and flame from afar as diamond itself. One gets the diamond, but the other doesn’t. Similarly the audience gets the feel that this is that yesteryear actress whom you have heard or seen before and not this actor Vidya who is the loose character. The actor is not the loose character, instead he is like the loose character and the audience infer the sentiments from the anukarana or imitation. Bhattanayaka , the exponent of Bhukti theory says that the audience comprehends the literal signifiers through the abhinaya (angika, vachika, aharya and satvika) causes imagination and universalisation that goes beyond space, time and individual preferences. This results in rasa and he is cleansed of his own individual sentiments. The third level of comprehension is that in which his imagination transcends material level and mixes with qualities like rajas and tamas and widens itself immersing in satvika quality and attains bliss, visranti. The film does not attain this level as the signifiers and references often mislead. Abhinavagupta’s reception theory states that rasa is the suggested bhavas that are pleasurable by all and without obstacle of which we have analysed in detail.
The film The Dirty Picture could be a turning point in Bollywood film industry which has a global audience. It could be a trendsetter for the leading ladies in an industry which is powered by the male egos. The picture is not a meritorious one from the point of view of Indian aesthetics as it could not coordinate the diverse elements into a single focus or sentiment. But the new audience could appreciate the film with their hindsight or reject it for its unsavoury elements.
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R. ANITA. Is Associate Professor in English at Devaswom Board College, Thalayolaparambu.