Part II: Sexuality and the Dirty Picture

Written by  //  December 22, 2011  //  Philosophy, Religion, Culture  //  2 Comments

[Zoheb Hossain follows on from his earlier post on Sexuality and the Dirty Picture, in this concluding part]

The Alpha Male’s “mother-whore” dichotomy

Naseeruddin Shah’s portrayal of Surya, a powerful superstar of the film industry, full of bigotry and chauvinism, was masterful. But his character is the only one out of all the main characters which sees no growth or movement. It is symptomatic of the entrenched institutional malaise and everything that is wrong with it – his inability to look inward, the blindness towards his own wrongdoings and lack of any sense of guilt reflects that he is almost beyond redemption. Right till the end he chooses to outcast Silk after his purpose is served and when she starts to threaten his comfortable constructs. Surya’s character is an explicit rendering of a powerful theme seen in many Indian men, the fear of the wife as a woman, i.e. a sexual being. In popular crude understanding, this is the split many men feel between their love and lust located in different women. As Sudhir Kakar describes this in Intimate Relations more exactly, that it is the age-old yet still persisting cultural splitting of the wife into a mother and a whore which underlies the husband-wife relationship. Popular literary example of such a character would be Devdas. The mother-whore dichotomy is a well-known Freudian syndrome, which describes the separation of sexuality from tenderness, the object of desire from the object of adoration. The psychodynamics of this occurrence in which a man idealized one kind of a woman, generally his own social class is visible in Surya’s relation with his wife where she is seen as “higher” and “purer” than him, where he feels almost impotent with her. While on the other hand he is capable of sexual relations with a woman of a lower social situation like a courtesan or in this case a dancer like Silk. In spite of expensive gifts for Silk and his sexual relations with her, Surya’s unflinching “devotion” to his wife is not merely for public consumption of a happy marriage but rather symptomatic of an idealization of a mother on whose image, in its purity, the man-boy still relies for nurturance and undying support. Therefore it becomes easier for the likes of Surya to split the mother image into the goddess (his wife) and whore (Silk) to allow the man to sustain a sexual life without being crushed by the anxiety and horror of “de-idealizing” a mother and seeing her for what she actually is. This hypocrisy is laid bare several times in the film and are some of the most powerful moments of truth like the awards ceremony where Silk vows to strip her clothes as long as the so called “shareef log” (refined people) keep wool over their eyes.

The Repressed Lover

Ramakant, a repressed and reserved lover, played to the tee by Tusshar, is Surya’s younger brother in the film and plays an important role in exposing Silk’s symptoms – her failure to control her narcissistic arrogance at the party, the one evening when he had requested her to control herself because he wanted to introduce her to his parents. His honest portrayal of an immature, easily excitable lover is best shown when he breaks into an uncontrollable dance from a mere peck on the cheek by Silk. It’s not ironic that his debut as a writer coincides with his sexual maturity bestowed upon him by Silk, which even he has the truthfulness to acknowledge. The failure of their relationship is nevertheless used to heighten Silk’s tragedy when she laments – “Why don’t people whom I give strength to stand up for themselves fail to stand up for me?”.

The Voice of Sanity

The film critic Naila is the voice of sanity in the film and effectively represents the feminist dilemma over Silk where at one level she symbolized sexual freedom of a woman in a deeply repressed patriarchal society; and at another level exploiting her sexuality to further herself and therefore perpetuating the fetishization of women in general. This conflict is seen in similar debates relating to sex-work and pornography where the issue of female agency is in conflict with whether consent in a deeply exploitative environment can ever be free? The truism of the film and of life lies in her comment, when Silk decides to dance on top of a car and openly kisses the man she loved to ruin Naila’s party – “Iss film industry ki asli hero tum ho Silk”.

Despite a remarkable attempt, for a mainstream bollywood film, to understand and portray the complexity of human sexuality backed by some credible performances, the film’s drawback lies in excessive use of punchlines, which is clever in parts but loses its effect due to overkill and renders the pathos superficial. The film also fails to capture the decline of Silk’s character as well as it portrays her sexual eclecticism and her meteoric rise.

About the Author

Arghya is currently doing the doctorate in law at the University of Oxford. Dithering between academia and litigation for a future career but sanguine in Oxford with his current researcher status.

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2 Comments on "Part II: Sexuality and the Dirty Picture"

  1. kabir chandna January 12, 2012 at 8:05 pm ·

    Very interesting, Zoheb! I’m going to go look up this mother-whore dichotomy business.

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