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Saturday, March 06, 2021

Dancing Queen

Vidya Balan wearing a scarlet sari is greeted with a wave of flashlights as she steps outside her vanity van parked in Film...

Written by Priyanka Sinha Jha |
December 2, 2011 6:46:23 pm

From the girl-next- door to a raunchy sex- symbol — Vidya Balan on the latka- jhatkas,a hundred costume changes and the attitude that got her there

Vidya Balan wearing a scarlet sari is greeted with a wave of flashlights as she steps outside her vanity van parked in Film City’s Kaaliya Maidan. Photographers are jostling and one calls out,“Vidya ooh la la!” making the actor break into one of her famous giggles.

We have gone way past two flowers touching,so when I am playing a sex-bomb,I can’t say “No cleavage.” Instead if I enjoy showing it, it will at least end up looking nice.

Balan continues her run of surprises with a saucy turn in Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture,loosely based on the life of southern siren Silk Smitha. The raunchy posters and songs have created a stir with trade pundits predicting healthy box-office collections for the film. That should be good news for Balan,who impressed critics earlier this year with No One Killed Jessica,along with Rani Mukerji.

I have lived every fantasy I have had because at the end of the day,all of us like the latka-jhatkas and the thumkas. It was the first time I had someone say,“Just push your hips out a little more”

Director Milan Luthria describes her as the natural choice,“The role is of a South Indian and her being one helped. This particular role required a woman who could look voluptous in the mould of a Vyajanthimala,Hema Malini,Sridevi or Juhi Chawla. I had a burning desire to work with her as there is a lot of depth in her expressions. Vidya is to women stars what Aamir is among male stars.”

Silk Smitha was the dancing star of that time,probably a pioneer of that style of dancing where she showed so much skin that it was almost as though she was “doing it” on screen

And given the curiosity around the film,she has certainly not disappointed. What sets the Dirty Picture apart is that it has the actor,who has been hailed as a very brave,going against her grain to convincingly portray a sex-symbol from the eighties. Balan admits that men are now viewing her in a different light while women are rooting for her. Between her hectic promotional tours,the actor took off time for a no holds barred interview with Screen.

I kept asking myself what it was that set Silk apart from the rest. And it was the fact that she was completely uninhibited. Sometimes she did it to prove a point,sometimes she did it to protect herself,sometimes to seduce and sometimes for a good laugh

What’s dirty in The Dirty Picture?

Dirty Picture is about a dancing star. It’s about an eighties’ dancing star who was brazen,and wore her sexuality on her sleeves and was unapologetic for it. When someone is that bold,especially a woman,she gets tagged as vulgar,dirty or maybe loose. It’s that kind of picture or perception we have of them and that’s where the title comes from.

Is it inspired by Silk Smita’s life? Was that daunting?

When I asked him if it was actually based on her life,he said no,but she was the dancing star of that time,probably a pioneer of that style of dancing where she showed so much skin that it was almost as though she was “doing it” on screen. Even the yesteryear’s vamps paled in comparison because they were far more graceful. This was bordering on the sexually offensive and she was the first to be called silk. After her,there were a lot of others like Cotton Kamla,Rayon Revathi,Polyster Padmini and what-have-you but none of them made a mark really,so none of us know how they looked. Even today people remember her because there was something special about her. She was somewhere ahead of her times. I just wanted that even if its a biopic of an imaginary dancer it should not be dark. There is enough darkness in the world. When we had discussed it threadbare,I realised that the film would Celebrate silk as a character. Most of my concerns were addressed when Milan said that it was a celebration of life and I plunged into it.

How did you prepare to play Silk who is very different from everything you have done so far,including Ishqiya?

Unlike other films,here was no structure of getting into it because here,it was almost like playing five different people in one film. Also,Milan is the kind of director who leaves 70 per cent up to you. He will tell you the story,the scene and let you go with it. So I had to literally create her out of the script. The dialogues were all I had to give me an indication of the kind of person that she is,her attitude to life,her take on relationships,men…everything.

Her confidence in her sexuality was her key to success. Her brazenness went far beyond just being sensual which resonates in the dialogues.

In a scene,a man who is trying to flirt with her says,“Saali haraami,meri biwi tere baare mein theek kehti thee.”

And she shoots back,“”Haan tere baare mein bhi to theek kehti hai… Tujhe holi khelne ka shauk hai par teri pichkari mein dum nahin hai.”

So that’s the kind of girl she is. One has to realise that she was a poor girl so she had that crudeness in the way she spoke.

Nonetheless,I didn’t know which was the starting point to prepare for the film because it wasn’t like Paa where I had to work on being the mother of a child with Progeria. So I read up on Progeria to know how I would react under the circumstances. Silk is a regular girl who becomes a star overnight. It’s a very generic canvas and I had to create a person out of that.

I kept asking myself what it was that set her apart from the rest . And it was the fact that she was completely uninhibited. Sometimes she did it to prove a point,sometimes she did it to protect herself and sometimes to seduce and sometimes for a good laugh. And she was unapologetic about it but it took me a while to figure her out.

What about the look,the costumes etc?

Once I figured that,it was clear to me. I knew I could do it but until you are there in front of the camera,you don’t know how you will navigate the role. Unless you have done some kind of workshop or something,which we didn’t,you don’t know to what extent you are willing to push yourself.

We also did a lot of costume trials,the make up trials which were all very elaborate helped. Every time I did that,I became more uninhibited. I think all of it helped me reach that state of uninhibition,you know,of being carefree. Bebaak,there is no better word than bebaak to describe that attitude. I was reading the lines and speaking to Rajat and Milan and Milan is not the kind of guy who encourages too much discussion and analysis. He believes in spontaniety and leaves 70 per cent to you. It just happened through our costume trials.

How did you get the dancing bit right?

They told me they didn’t have the songs to rehearse with so I suggested that we put some music from that time and dance like the stars of that era complete with extremely suggestive gestures.

I had never done that kind of dancing and yet I had enjoyed Sridevi and Madhuri and always wondered if I would get a chance to do that kind of dancing because films these days don’t have lip sync songs. Most songs are in the background and we no longer have those nakhras,adaa and the sharmana and it’s all very sanitised,sterlised even. I never thought I’d get a chance to do it. I remember the first day we put on Munghda and danced,I thought that if I could not do it there I would never be able to. I pushed the boundaries on every front. I let myself go with the pelvic thrusts and the bosom heaving. I totally let my hair down.

We have gone way past two flowers touching so when I am playing a sex-bomb,I can’t say “No cleavage.” Instead if I enjoy showing it,it will at least end up looking nice.

Today people are not squeamish about physical intimacy and when that’s the reality outside then that has to reflect on screen. When you are squirming or sheepish about a scene then it looks sleazy or in bad taste. Once the conviction is in place—-that all these scenes are taking the story forward-I am perfectly comfortable with all that it may entail.

Did you ever think that you may not fit in?

When Milan came to me,I was like “Why me?” because I was not typical casting and if it was going to be just about unconventional casting then I was not impressed enough. Milan and I were supposed to work together on Bihad which didn’t happen. Then he approached me with this but soon got busy with Once Upon A Time.. so I thought that he’s decided to go ahead with someone else. Ten days after Once Upon A Time..,he was there at my house. And I was like ,“shit! Now it’s decision time!”

So I revisited the script and discussed it till I was convinced.

So what have the film promos done for your image?

(laughs) While I won’t even deny that men have started seeing me in a different light-Ishqiya did that and this has done it even more— but the surprise is that so many young girls and women want to watch this film. There were these 15- year-old kids who are determined to watch it in the theatre because it looks like “so much fun”.

What was the craziest scene that you shot?

It would have to be the one where Naseerji and I are rolling down a slope with 12,000 oranges around us! It can’t get more bizarre than that and me looking like an orange myself in an orange and green and yellow costume,which is also my favourite in keeping with the jhataak costumes of the times. I have lived every fantasy I have had because all of us at the end of the day like the latka-jhatkas,the thumkas. I did it like I am the loudest dancer on planet earth but it’s turned out well and everyone is liking it. It was the first time I had someone say,“Just push your hips out a little more!”

I guess along with being sexual and sensual that aggression was needed for the character.

Any memorable scenes or lines that stand out ?

There’s a dialogue which says “Main Silk hoon,koi film nahin ki interval ke baad badal jaon.” So yesterday someone was saying ‘aapka woh waala dialogue achcha hai. There’s a certain heroism about the character so everyone is keen to see that. And while there is all this naach-gaana,they are wondering what the real story is all about. I am thrilled because it’s connecting across age groups which is really reassuring.

Was the role-playing cathartic?

In Bhool Bhulaiya,the only other time I really danced,it was classical. It was a different kind of joy because I had learnt classical dance. I have always been very composed,very coy but here I was turning everything on its head so yes,it’s definitely been cathartic. It’s been a huge leap in evolution for me,both as a person and as an actor. Very liberating and joyous.

So what’s next?

I just know as an actor my career is going to be divided into a before Dirty Picture and after Dirty Picture phase. After this film people might consider me for even more divergent roles.

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