Director: Umesh bist
Writer: Umesh bist
Editor: Prerna Saigal
Cinematography: Rafey Mehmood
Starring: Sanya Malhotra, Sayani Gupta, Ashutosh Rana, Shiba Chada, Raghubir Yadav
Streaming on: Netflix
By a strange coincidence, within three months, we have two editions of Hindi for widows finding their strength and spine in the 13 days of mourning after the death of her husband. On Siema Pahva Ramprasad Ki Tehri was the story of Ama Ji, played by the great Supria Patak, who, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, negotiates with her own loneliness and takes care of her life. Siema, who is also the author of the story, uses the funeral as a framing device to study family dynamics, how many old wounds fester throughout life, and the importance of correcting defective notes – Ramprasad was a music teacher. The film is a compassionate portrait of a stretched family that, despite the scars, finds a way to survive.
IN Dirty, director Umesh Bist keeps the focus on the new widow. Sandia is young, educated – she is a topper in English – and unlike Ama Ji, strangely steadfast from the death of her husband. It was a five-month arranged marriage, and now she finds herself on the loose, longing for Pepsi and chips while her husband’s family reunites. We are not told how Astic died, but his absence is an imminent presence. As part of intricate funeral ceremonies, Astic is now symbolized by a clay vessel hanging in front of the house, which by the way is called Shanti Kunj – ironically, given how little peace there is. As in Ramprasad ki Tehrvi, most of the action takes place in this large house in Lucknow; the reunion of relatives, nanads and tauji inevitably leads to comedy, clashes, gossip and drama; and there is even a hint of romance between chaos and death rituals. Life, in all its glorious mess, goes on.
The main plot of the two films may be the same, but the nature of the tragedy is different. Astic was in his late twenties. He was also the only member of the family who won. His loss shatters his parents, played with emotion and authenticity by Ashutos Rana and Shiba Chada. The story, also written by Umesh, creates an intriguing contrast between Sandia’s indifference and her parents’ grief. In a well-staged sequence, the action breaks between the father who performs Astik’s last rituals and Sandhia biting into Golgapi – she can’t cry, but her appetite has increased! The room is immediately rich in dark comedy and emotional rhythms. But this tension is not developing sharply enough.
Dirty starts strong. There’s a great comedy with the house bell that brings out “Ooh La La” The dirty picture, is not the most appropriate song in a funeral setting. But the energy dissipates and the film settles in cool mode. Sandha is the main engine of this story. Sanya Malhotra plays her with charm and empathy. Watch her expression in a clever presentation scene – she yawns as she reads condolences on her phone and decides that these are mostly cutting and pasting tasks. Sandia is an ordinary middle-class girl who has not yet found her identity. Sanya localizes the emptiness in herself – notice the way she looks at Akanksha, the girlfriend of her dead husband, who has financial independence and freedom of action. Even Akanksha’s perfectly maintained nails remind Sandhya of how mundane her own life is.
Still, Sandhya and, as an extension, the film does not dazzle because there is not enough flesh on the character. We know that she is smart and that her conservative mother cuts her wings, but we do not have enough sense of her inner life. How did she cope with her inert marriage and her husband, who was unknown to her, even after five months of sharing a bedroom? We know she hasn’t adapted to the Indian-style toilet yet, but has she come to terms with his coldness? The film reformulates the idea of the “other woman”, which is welcome. Sandhya and Akanksha are strangers bound by their relationship with a dead person, but this tense relationship between them takes place on a superficial, sanitized level. The emotions embedded here do not land.
Like Siema, Umesh assembles a stellar ensemble that includes Raghubir Yadav, Sayani Gupta, Rajesh Taylang, Sharib Hashmi and Jamil Khan. It’s great to see these actors play against each other, but none of their characters jump out of the frame. What stands out is Arijit Singh’s soaring soundtrack. Dirty is the debut of the singer as a composer. The songs, especially “Dil Udd Ja Re” and “Thode Kam Ajnabi”, are melodic and distinctive. And Phire Faqeera, a combination of hip-hop and rap, is superb.
Read also: Sankhayan Ghosh reviewed Arijit Singh’s Dirty soundtrack
Dirty reminds us of the many ways in which society and men control women. Sandhya has small desires, but even those are frowning. The elders in the family want to decide her fate instead. Dirty reworks the meaning of the word – it becomes an ambitious state, suggesting a woman who is crazy enough to break the rules and take over the world. Which reminded me of the way Anvita Dutt’s feminist horror drama Bulbbul do a wondered inspiring.
Dirty don’t hit those high notes. He is well-meaning but light. You can watch the movie on Netflix India.