I confess it took me about 20 minutes to figure out the kind of film that The Dirty Picture was trying to be. I think that despite seeing the colourful, glorious trailer, I was still expecting something a bit more grounded - the way that sound effects accented the dramatic moments felt a bit off at first. But pretty soon after something just clicked. There is depth to The Dirty Picture, but it's not the sort of depth an art film or a social film would try to infuse into this life of the sex symbol Silk, played by Vidya Balan. The depth comes from the fact that this is just a superbly written masala picture, but it doesn't try to be a message film or gritty social commentary. And that's a very, very good thing.
Why is it a good thing? Because I find it's more respectful to the character if you don't try to make a message film from her. There's something pretty great about the lack of moralism - at least in my eyes - in The Dirty Picture. While narrated by her biggest enemy, there isn't any kind of judgment on Silk for her choices, good or bad by the way that her story is told. I didn't feel invited to approve or disapprove of her all the time - there were nuances to her, as to the other characters. Any judgment comes from the people around her, but she faces all this with distinct defiance.
She is what she is, and she's defined by her choices, but also by the world around her. It's an interesting dichotomy, and one that everybody in the film portrays very well. For a masala, there are naturally villains and heroes - she is the heroine, definitely. But there are also shades to the characters.
Balan's brilliance is almost a given at this point. I've been so impressed and frankly just moved by her performances in films like Paa and No One Killed Jessica, so I always knew she'd excel here - she can portray Silk's fragile side, her self-confidence even when it goes to the point of arrogance and her exuberance. Perhaps the bigger surprises therefore are the other performances, like Tusshar Kapoor as the man who adores Silk, or Emraan Hashmi as the man who loathes her. Hashmi especially won me over - the journey his character takes is intriguing, and I had severe prejudice about him, having only seen him in Gangster, which was only not a very good film but also not a very good performance. (The fact he's spent half his career practically eating faces of female co-stars hasn't endeared me to him either. I'm fine with kissing but his films rarely seemed to feature good on-screen kisses.)
But in this, I positively loved him, and I thought the chemistry between him and Vidya was practically through the roof. I would not mind seeing them in another film together, and I hope I'm not the only one.
As with any good masala, the songs were a delight, and the cinematography beautiful. I've not read a whole lot of response to this film, but when people name this the best film of last year, I think I'd be strongly inclined to agree. I saw a fair amount of last year's batch of pictures, and considering my enjoyment, and how likely I am to rewatch something, it's pretty clear that Dirty was perhaps the best picture of them all.