This piece was written for a blog when The Dirty Picture (2011) had just released. For reasons unknown, it never got published where it was intended to be. My two cents on the sultry siren, Silk Smitha, even if 2 years too late.
I was 8 or 9 years old when I first saw ‘Sadma’ (1983), a Bollywood movie featuring Kamal Hassan, Sridevi and the recently riveted, Silk Smitha, in a role uncommon for those times. Released in the 80’s, I watched this movie in the 90’s on cable television, when it often aired as a matinee show and not necessarily as a ‘late night fiesta’. Yes, those were the golden days of uncensored television viewing, following the significant privatization of industries and networks in India.
|Silk Smitha in Sadma (1983)|
Originally christened Vijaylakshmi, Silk Smitha was once the most sought after actresses in the Tamil Film Industry in South India for portraying little clothes and character in raunchy scenes and vamp roles in the 80’s. By the 90’s, with a declining career and demand, she met with a tragic early demise. Even at a very young age, in the movie mentioned above, she didn’t quite appeal to me stereotypically as a ‘vamp’ on the sole basis of her explicit sexuality but just a woman who had excessively high ‘physical’ needs than most (men & women) displayed and was ‘trapped’ in a situation that did not meet her ideal expectations. She wasn’t out to hurt or offend anyone; she just wanted to complete herself.
The point of this nostalgic narration is that while most of us, including myself, waited in great anticipation for Vidya Balan to portray the personality and sexuality of a woman like Silk, my expectations were a little different, in the impression she had left as a kid. I could sense from the beginning and was right on target about the fact that most people were eager to see how Balan could portray a ‘character less’ (I love this term for its many connotations) woman without some of her own merit, as an A grad actor, taking a blow. I, on the other hand, was more eager to see how closely could Balan emulate the Southern Siren because frankly I haven’t really seen that kind of uninhibited & ‘shameless’ sexuality in too many women since her.
Balan makes many brave attempts in the movie at elucidating Silk’s sensuality whether it was making love to the whip as an extra in a song shooting or to the froth and bubbles in the bathtub. Yet, what was most interestingly shown was how (before stardom struck & she was just a ‘commoner’) she made orgasmic noises to tease the neighboring couple while they were busy at nature’s best business. To Balan’s ‘loud’ meddling, the dutiful wife lying underneath responded, “While I suffer, she enjoys!”
There were two things that struck me: one, the culminating ending in the movie and two, media treatment of Silk Smitha post her departure from the industry and the world more than a decade ago.
Milan Luthra denies the story being based purely and solely on Silk’s life and agrees that the character was a stereotypical portrayal. Through the movie, what we witness is someone who boldly crossed those boundaries of modesty set around women yet could not break them and eventually, got broken by them. Yes, they showed a humanistic side of her but as much exaggerated the dramatics showdowns with the superstar’s wife (whose husband she was sleeping with), a rival sex kitten and a gossip columnist. Her eventual downfall, as a woman who took a stand and stood by it, with the alcohol, nicotine and loneliness was portrayed as if reprimanding her of her actions. It was such a demonstrative lesson of that’s-what-you-get-for-using-your-sexuality-as-a-tool!
The features and editorials leading up to the previews of the movie and post reviews have been like obituaries written too late. Most of them have sympathized with her as someone who was ‘ahead of her times’ and ended up in the rear end of the hypocritical society that loved to hate her. But I don’t really see us as any different or more progressive as we’d like to so easily believe sometimes.
If it was Marilyn Monroe in the fifties and Silk Smitha in the eighties, we do have our current brigade of Kim Kardashian, Poonam Pandey and Veena Malik of the post 2k generation. I agree the comparison maybe way off but their routes to ‘stardom’ in congruence with the demands and desires of the audience (i.e. us) are much too similar. We do love despising these women for just boldly doing what they do…whatever they do, that is.
Are we a society always dismissive of female sex symbols and sirens? Men flash all the time and make all kinds of ‘dirty pictures’ but they still don’t seem to be reeling in the same spotlight of the moralistic flack.
Will we always keep demonizing our desires, in particular when women mirror reflect them?
To many, Silk promoted skin. To me, she promoted pleasure.