Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Disappointing Picture

Silk Smitha, underneath the facade of being a semi-porn actor, was only looking for love and acceptance. Aren't we all?
My disappointment with The Dirty Picture is not that it humanizes a person supposedly outside the bound of respectability, but in the way in which it does so. This is how the film goes: Silk wants to be an actor, but becomes a sex symbol when being an actor does not work out. She is not apologetic about it, instead making the most of it. Her life goes on a downward spiral later, which is narratively tied up with two heartbreaks in her life. This is familiar narrative territory: after all, women are emotional, vulnerable to exploitation as they do not learn from heartbreak and go on trusting men. As for the men, almost all men are exploiters. I honestly cannot decide which sex should be more offended by such reductive categorization.
At the same time, there is always one notable exception to the exploitative man - and if the film is a romantic comedy that man is the one the woman will end up happily ever after with. In The Dirty Picture, that man is found too late for the happy ending. Even if the story is about them, corrupt women, though usually redeemed by remorse, are unlikely to be shown as living happily ever after. Think, too, of the pressure on love: as an eternal saviour it operates as replacement for deity in a secular world.
Commodification of the self is not restricted only to actors. We all sell ourselves in certain ways in the workplace. Some people sell the idea of themselves as sexual objects, some as intellectual objects and some as service providers. In the capitalist marketplace, we are all threatened by younger, more attractive or smarter replacements. That threat does get a token nod in the film. Silk may have been losing roles and money, but it is emotional betrayal that gets the most prominence as the reason for her depression and eventual demise. In such a situation, desire for love, and by extension, acceptance, is a way of re-inserting the heroine into respectable bourgeois morality and into universality.
At one point in the film, Silk declares that she only looks at her pictures in newspapers and keeps the good ones, but never reads the accompanying articles. When she does finally read them, she is upset about what is being said about her. The film had shown her laughing at the conventional morality used to judge her, but at this moment it affects her. This moment marks the beginning of her downfall. She becomes acceptable by accepting how unacceptable she is, not by questioning the strictures that mark some people as outside acceptability.
After Love, Sex and Dhokha I had expected more from Alt Entertainment. Should I be thankful that they did not show a dying mother and/or sister to justify Silk's agreement to be a sex symbol?