Silk's is a story ripe for exploitation. Will the film bite the bait? Unfortunately, it does.
In this picture, dirty for various reasons, Reshma (Vidya Balan) emerges from a small town. She runs away to the city, fuelled by ambitions for a better life. But a job as a film extra is not what she had in mind.
To get a solo dance number, she goes to excruciating lengths. You marvel at her persistence. But the song doesn't make it to the film's final cut. She's shattered.
The person behind removing her risque dance number is Abraham (Emraan Hashmi, restrained) who believes that there's only one hero of a film - the director. He despises what Silk (Reshma's screen name) brings to the table – an easy ploy to bring front-benchers to the theatre. A trick he thinks is beneath him.
On the other hand is Silk's childhood crush – superstar Surya (Naseeruddin Shah) whom she has to romance in a song sequence. Shah is wonderful as the ageing superstar, and the character is rightly portrayed as being utterly ridiculous, playing a college kid with wrinkles and a paunch.
Silk rises up to become the most sought-after vamp. And with success she must also learn to navigate insecure detractors. It's interesting that despite no direct competition, Silk appearing on a magazine cover unnerves the industry's men the most. (Including a producer played marvellously by Rajesh Pratap.)
Indeed, a peek into the film industry's Machiavellian ways is one of the film's most immersing aspects. Including an award-winning film journalist who admires Silk's gumption, but ruthlessly trashes her in print.
Director Milan Luthria masterfully depicts Silk's struggle in a male-dominated industry, while weaving in her personal space.
The rise and fall of a small-town girl is reminiscent of films like Fashion. They reveal a deep-set regression. For all its glory in the first half, Luthria falls for the cop-out technique in the end.
By showing the rebellious character ending up a wreck, Luthria too preaches the 'This is What Happens to Bad Girls' rule. That is disappointing.
Why must our character, so gloriously rebellious and so fantastically feisty, crumble so easily? The ending is the film's undoing. It's so frivolous; it's not only unjustified, but also plain insulting to the character and the person she represents.
Now for the crackling dialogue by wordsmith Rajat Arora (Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai). His voice is clever, but here it's too much of a good thing. So every dialogue is an idiom; each conversation written for applause. It's like using an exclamation mark after every sentence. The overwritten dialogue, though fantastic in portions, makes you yearn for a scene where characters talk like normal people.
The songs are fun, but the close-ups of the actress' contours are a put off. Is director Milan Luthria trying to comment on corny, titillating films of the past or is he using the premise to make a sophisticated version of the same?
Why have a full-fledged song full of heaving cleavage for example, when the idea is only to depict a film shoot?
But all is forgiven for Luthria's slick storytelling. And essentially, for Vidya Balan. She has you transfixed throughout the film. Here's an actress who doesn't just carry the film on her shoulders, but elevates it to another level.
One wonders what Silk Smitha would have said about this portrayal of her life. It would be ridiculous to ask her to be a sport about it. But then, Silk's character in The Dirty Picture says that films run only on the basis of "entertainment, entertainment and entertainment".
This one has plenty of it. And despite the obvious cop-out, the film is recommended for the undisputed Performance of the Year. Take a bow Ms Balan; you make the film worthy of a second viewing!
Rating: 3.5 stars