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'I have used sex to market The Dirty Picture'

Last updated on: November 29, 2011 18:01 IST

'I have used sex to market The Dirty Picture'

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Sonil Dedhia in Mumbai

Ever since word about The Dirty Picture started getting around, it was termed as a biopic on late southern siren Silk Smitha. Replete with kitschy clothes, dramatic song sequences and the whole retro works, the film was indeed reminiscent of that time in films when Silk Smitha had reigned and captured the moviegoers' imagination.

As the Vidya Balan-starrer gears up for release this Friday, director Milan Luthria tells Sonil Dedhia how the film is not just about one iconic item girl from down south but the trend that she was a part of.

The Dirty Picture is one of the most awaited films of the year...

Yes, there has been an amazing buzz all over the world. It's a tremendous response to a film that does not have a superstar cast or Rs 50 crore budget.

I won't deny the fact that I used sex as a marketing tool, but at the end of the day, I have made a good film with some great performances.


Image: A scene from The Dirty Picture. Inset: Milan Luthria

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'When you are selling sex, it needs to be done aesthetically'

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Vidya Balan is a superstar, isn't she?                                                             

How would you equate my film with the business that was generated by films like Bodyguard and Ra.One, or for that matter Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai?

What I am saying is that films like Ishqiya and No One Killed Jessica did not generate the kind of buzz that The Dirty Picture has. Inspite of the content being bold, it has been liked and appreciated.

Everyone thinks that the promos were watched for the sex aspect, but if that was true, then anyone can make a filthy film and generate that kind of buzz.

It's not that simple. When you are selling sex, it needs to be done aesthetically. There are so many B-grade films being made every year but they do not generate any interest.

The film is not only about Vidya Balan wearing some skimpy outfits. Each and every one of the cast and crew has contributed to the film. There have been so many sleazy films in Bollywood but they have not managed to pull it off.

What made you cast Vidya Balan?

Vidya is an exceptional choice to do this film at this stage of her career. She is carving out a niche for herself. I call her the Alpha female of Bollywood. Her fans and audiences wait for her films to release.

She is to women what Aamir Khan is to men. Aamir does a Taare Zameen Par and at the same time he also does a Ghajini, and Vidya is doing the same thing.


Image: A scene from The Dirty Picture

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'Vidya is to women what Aamir Khan is to men'

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Was Vidya Balan the first choice?

When I read the script, I said it had to be Vidya. This bold role is against her image and that's what I found very interesting. She has got the perfect Indian face and an Indian body which is disappearing from films made today.

What interested you in making a film on Silk Smitha?

The film's not based on Silk Smitha's life. There is a lot of hype around her. I started out as an assistant director, working with Mahesh Bhatt in the early 1990's and that was an era which saw the rise of item girls in southern films.

I had worked with Silk Smitha and Disco Shanti. These are the two names that I remembered. Then there was Nylon Nalini and Polyester Padmini. It was very interesting to see big superstars wait for weeks and weeks to get dates from these women.

They had to be in every film for one song in sexy avatars. No one knew about these women's lives. There was a mystery surrounding them. What interested me was that in an era dominated by men there were these women who came from a questionable background and difficult circumstances and still made their presence felt. The film is a journey of a dancer and what goes on in her mind, what makes her a phenomenon and how troubled relationships are a part of her life, how she battles fame, fortune and alcohol.

So it's not about Silk. You have to see it to believe that it's a work of fiction. It was interesting space to get into and the script came to me. I read it and agreed to do it. I added a lot of colour and music to the script and gave it a commercial tone.


Image: A scene from the Dirty Picture

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'We don't want to be apologetic about the film we've made'

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You said the film is not based on Silk Smitha, but you've named Vidya's character Silk.

Today, if I tell you that it is the story of Marilyn Monroe, the film will still hold true. She was a sex symbol and everyone loved her. She too suffered from broken relationships and died a mysterious death. If you take up Michael Jackson's story, it is the same.

There is a massive connection to Silk Smitha's story but it is wrong to say that it is Silk Smitha's story. When Yash Chopra made Deewar, everyone said that the film is based on Haji Mastan, but Haji Mastan in real life never had a brother who was a cop as shown in the film.

What was Vidya's initial reaction when you narrated the script to her?
 
She started with a no; she was in a state of panic after hearing the first narration. I calmed her down. She sat down and watched all my films to find out how I dealt with different genres.

We sat down again and she was a little convinced. Eventually, when she made up her mind, she was completely in the character.


Image: A scene from The Dirty Picture

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'Vidya is going to sweep everyone off their feet'

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What did you say that convinced her?

(Thinks) I think what I told her was 'when you die this is the film that they will show around the world'. She was a little surprised and questioned me. I told her 'don't you think they will show Guide when Waheeda Rehman is gone or Arth when Shabana Azmi passes away?'. And she said yes.

I also told her that people will see a Vidya Balan they have never seen before.

The second thing I told her was that she needn't worry about exposing on screen as she is naturally blessed with a face and expressions that radiate so much purity that no matter how sleazy the scene, she will make it look beautiful.

People like Meena Kumari, Vyjantimala, Rekha and Madhuri Dixit have all done very sexy stuff but they all had the kind of face that didn't make anything feel cheap, and that is the case with Vidya too.

Are you comparing Vidya Balan to all the legendary actresses you just named?

Oh yes, absolutely. I don't think she falls short by even an inch. Whether it is the performance or her looks or her talent, she is right up there.  She has gone through seven looks in the film, and just wait and watch -- she is just going to sweep everyone off their feet.


Image: A scene from The Dirty Picture

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'Naseer had to struggle with dancing'

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Naseeruddin Shah is a tough taskmaster. What is it that you learnt from him?

For a long time now people have been seeing Naseer -- the man who is a mature performer, just like a statesman of the industry. I guess I was able to connect with the boy in him, which was very interesting.

He has had a reverse journey in films. He started with intense films and gradually moved on to do commercial cinema. He once told me that when he was young people asked him to grey his hair, and now when he has natural grey hair, they ask him to dye it black.

He told me that I should let him play a leech lecher. He has relished every moment of it (Smiles).

What was the toughest part for him, do you think?

Dancing. He had to really struggle with it. He rehearsed for two-and-a-half months and his wife Ratna Pathak would join him during rehearsals. The rain song troubled him a lot.

When he came on the sets, everyone was terrified of him. He lost his temper a couple of times, but would calm himself down.


Image: A scene from The Dirty Picture

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'Silk maintained a distance from everyone'

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Were you at any point of time unnerved by the kind of actors you had chosen?

No, but I was unnerved at doing something that was never attempted before. When you use a frontline actress, it brings a sense of responsibility and at the same time, anxiety, because you have to do it well or else people will rip you apart.

In this film, Vidya's dignity was my responsibility. She had placed her faith in me and I had to live up to it.
 
You said you have worked with Silk Smitha. Any personal anecdotes you can share?

I don't have a good memory. It's just a hazy couple of days that I remember when I was working on a film called Naraaz which had Mithun Chakraborty in the lead. There was a song featuring Slk Smitha and Mithun that we shot at AVM Studios in Chennai. I never got a chance to interact with Silk; she kept her distance from everyone.

After that there was a song with Disco Shanti in Najayaaz which had Ajay Devgn and Juhi Chawla in the lead, but again, I had no direct interaction with her.

Was it easy to research for the film since you were part of that era?

Primarily the research was about the attitude of the people during that era. When you make a film on the '80s it is not only about the cars or the clothes that were in fashion, it is also about the attitude of the characters.

There was a lot of research on the music. When you listen to it you will feel the music is similar to that in films like Himmatwala and Mawali.

We also had to create an environment which represented that era, from the idli-makers, coconut sellers and yellow auto-rickshaws to the cigarettes and condoms used at that time.


Image: A scene from The Dirty Picture

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'The Dirty Picture explores a very dark and gritty side of a woman'

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And the characters?

A lot of the character work was done when I got the script. I worked closely with Vidya to make sure that she was comfortable doing the scenes and made sure that she didn't feel awkward. I also worked on the looks of my other actors (Naseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi and Tusshar Kapoor).

Once Upon A Time In Mumbai was loosely a biopic. Was it helpful in making The Dirty Picture?

What I have drawn from the earlier film is that the hero should be flamboyant, larger than life and untouchable, with a lot of charisma, but that's where the similarity ends. The stories are completely different.

The Dirty Picture is unconventional. If I say certain sequences in the film are bold, that would be the right description, but at the same time they are very new to Indian cinema. The film explores a very dark and gritty side of a woman.

We had come quite close to making soft porn but, as I said, that doesn't mean I have made soft porn. People will have to wait to see what I have done in the film.


Image: A scene from The Dirty Picture

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'We had come quite close to making soft porn'

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So the film is not soft porn?

It is a regular film, but I don't deny the fact that it has some strong elements of soft porn, though that doesn't make it a soft porn film.

Recently, we had Delhi Belly which had a slice of humour with foul language and some unusual graphics. Similarly, we have taken a culture that has never been shown. We don't want to be apologetic about what we have made.

Films such as Delhi Belly and Love Sex Aur Dhoka have unconventional titles and a story line too. How is your film different?

I think The Dirty Picture takes the level of unconventional a notch above what has been shown or heard in Bollywood so far.

Won't giving the sex element such prominence backfire?

I think there will be something that people will explore as they watch the film. They will get what they are looking for but there will be a lot of it which they wouldn't have expected. 

Everyone thought that my earlier film Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai was about Haji Mastan and Dawood but when people saw the film, they realised the story had a lot more to offer.

You told Vidya that when she passes away, this is the film that will be shown; would you also want this film to be etched on your tombstone?

Yes, I am very proud of it. It's a unique film and it is a film that has brought out great performances. Every filmmaker wants to be remembered for his great work and I think this is one of my best films.


Image: Movie poster of The Dirty Picture

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