At one stage in the film, which up until then has been swimming in a sea of predictable clichés about the ‘glamour’ world, a spiky little plot-point yanks back our wandering attention: a ‘calendar girl’ attends a funeral, and her `fee’ for so doing is a couple of cool lakhs.
This is a moment. It tells us, just the way a similar one did in Madhur Bhandarkar’s earlier ‘Page 3’ where a fleet of liveried drivers chatter freely about their wealthy employers, that no one – alive or dead — is spared by the ever-burgeoning army of ‘celebrity’ publicists, and their hungry clients. Each moment is milked, and turned into an opportunity for publicity.
When a famous person dies, a person struggling up the fame ladder needs to be in attendance. The next day there will be photos of the funeral, and you, yes you, will be seen surrounded by famous people. Then you will, by association, become famous. Tada.
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Plus, of course, there’s the lovely lolly you get paid for being there. Nice, no?
If Madhur Bhandarkar’s latest had been as sharp as this sequence, ‘Calendar Girls’— which tells the story of the pretty young things chosen to grace a booty calendar sponsored by a real-life-inspired magnate (Suhel Seth), shot by a celebrity photographer (Rohit Roy)– would have been a true tell-all. What we get instead, is a non-stop show-reel of show-all, where the camera goes over, under, behind the ‘calendar girls’, not an inch being spared.
Acres and acres of flesh—pushed-up cleavage, bare legs disappearing under the shortest, flimsiest of shim-shams, swaying washboard abs — is on constant display, cementing every single prejudice spilling out in these times of ravenous tabloidization. If you are a ‘calendar girl’, you must be, a)hot b)easy c)willing-to-compromise d)sleep your way to the top. Fill in the rest of the alphabets.
The girls come from different regions. Selfie-specialist Mayuri (Ruhi, the bright spark in Nisha Pahuja’s truly revealing documentary ‘The World Before Her’) from Rohtak who gets to ‘struggle’ in Bollywood, Bengali bombshell Paroma (Satarupa), Goan ‘gori’ Sharon (Kyra), Lahori lass Nazneen (Avani), Hyderabad gal Nandita (Akansha). But their presumed regional angularities are buried under the tyranny of getting under the skin– much irony here– of an air-brushed assembly-line ‘product’, turned into bods to hang bikinis on.
The only way a film like this can become palatable is if its gaze mined the multiple painful ironies inherent in the situation the girls find themselves in: one gets pushed into ‘VIP escort service’, another into being a trophy wife, another into a honey-trap between a greedy cricket match fixer and players. These strands are all played out to the hilt, hammering out the message that if you will willingly do these things – like, for example, become a ‘calendar girl’– You Will Come To A Sorry End. Girl, stay at home, and stay inside, or you will be forced into ‘bed –and-breakfast-service-to-men’ (yes, this crass line is from the film): is this a film about women having agency, or an outdated lesson on morality?
A hurried after-thought, which talks of how these girls are really, truly ‘proud achievers’, comes right in the end. And it’s just that, an after-thought. The rest of it exploits—smugly, tackily, uncomfortably explicitly—young women being exploited.
‘Calendar Girls’ cast: Ruhi Singh, Avani Modi, Akansha Puri, Kyra Dutt, Satarupa Pyne, Rohit Roy, Suhel Seth
‘Calendar Girls’ director: Madhur Bhandarkar