Ekta Kapoor launched the film with director Milan Luthria soon after their collaboration Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai became a super-hit. She said that The Dirty Picture would be India's answer to the Academy Award nominated film Boogie Nights. Later in a press conference, Kapoor clarified that neither of Balaji's forthcoming film, Ragini MMS nor The Dirty Picture were "porn films", as they were made out to be.
She has gone on record to add, "I would be surprised if I don't get unbelievable critical acclaim for The Dirty Picture and a national award for my actress, Vidya Balan. The movie has one of the most well-written scripts I have come across and a lot of youngsters in my office have looked at it with great admiration." She also pointed out that the purpose of the film was neither to justify nor criticize Smitha's life, but for the audience to live her life. Additionally, all actors, including Balan and Shah attended workshops for almost two months before filming could begin.
"The story chose me! It was Ekta’s idea, she had asked the writer to write a story based on this and once it was done they casually asked me to go through it. She wanted a first time director to do it as it wasn’t a big canvas and did not have a big budget, but when I read the story I was bowled over. I told her I wanted to direct it, it was exclusive material — not those typical masala films and I didn’t want anyone else directing it"
-Director Milan Luthria.
When screenwriter Rajat Arora initially started working and took cues from producer Ekta Kapoor, it was seen as much smaller film in scope, primarily looking into the soft-pornography phenomenon of the 1980s, but gradually as the work progressed, it grew to also trace the controversial romances of Smitha, through a fictionalized biopic. Further while researching for the film director Milan Luthria and screenwriter Rajat Arora, found little material in the film magazines of the period, as "women like Silk Smitha were often ignored by film magazines, except for gossip column mentions", thus they derived much of the details of her life, from anecdotes, met-at-a-party stories, quick tea-break chats, and fictionalized them. Apart from depicting the pomp of the Tamil film industry, it also takes up issues like, money management by actors, how they got cheated, "their string of broken relationships, led lonely lives and met with tragic ends". However, for inspiration instead of looking at South Indian films of the period, the team turned to work of mainstream Bollywood directors like Manmohan Desai, Vijay Anand, Raj Kapoor, Feroz Khan and G.P. Sippy, and to put the global soft-porn industry in context, the team look into Boogie Nights (1997) and The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). The end script, became a "fictionalized, women-oriented, generalized perspective on the 1980s film industry".
When Vidya Balan was narrated the script and shown sketches of what she needed to wear for the portrayal, including hot pants, low necks and petticoats (without the saree that Vidya is so fond of), she was uncomfortable. We couldn't have found anyone better than Vidya for this role. It's a casting that very few would think is viable because it is going to be nothing like Vidya has done before. But I am confident she will push the envelope as far as she can".
Regarding the criticism that Balan's character might evoke, Luthria clarified, "I wanted Vidya to know that what she's doing is not crass or crude but can be shown aesthetically in a sensual manner with a touch of class. What her character does, is not cheap.". As a reference point, he also asked Balan to study 'similar themed' films such as Burlesque and Chicago. Balan also underwent salsa training to fine-tune herself with Smitha's languid body language.
Next, Naseeruddin Shah was cast as an ageing South Indian superstar with "hideous wigs, dark glasses and painted-on mustaches". He will also be seen shaking a leg to a "fast dance number" in the film, a full 22 years after he last did it in the song "Tirchi Topiwale" from Tridev (1989). Regarding his character, Ekta Kapoor stated, "This role requires him to play to the gallery, provoke claps, laughs and whistles and I know he can pull it off because Naseer is the Shah of all actors", while Luthria added, "Expect a man who unabashedly enjoys the flesh of women".
Tusshar Kapoor and Emraan Hashmi have also been cast in lead roles. While Kapoor will be seen playing a script-writer and Smitha's love interest, the nature of Hashmi's role is still unknown. The casting has received praise from trade pundits, with one of them commenting, "Known for engaging in interesting and unconventional casting in all its previous releases, Balaji has again tackled the unheard of by casting Emraan Hashmi and Vidya Balan - two of the most successful stars of today - opposite each other in The Dirty Picture. The perfect combination of mass and class promises to make this controversial film yet another winner from the Balaji stable."
Filming was to begin on 21 May 2011; a week after the release of Kapoor's Ragini MMS. But due to certain production delays, it began a week later. Balan, being a spiritual person, organized a puja on the sets before principal photography could begin.
The first leg of filming took place at Mumbai's Film City where an elaborate set re-creating Chennai (then Madras) of the 80's, was set up. The second schedule was shot in Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad. The song 'Ishq Sufiyana' was shot at bidar fort in bidar, karnataka. The filming was completed in end September, before it went into post-production, ahead of the December release. Director Luthria wanted to depict a sense of discomfort between the film's two lead characters, Vidya Balan and Emraan Hashmi, a "meeting of two completely different worlds". So he didn't allow them to interact and get comfortable with each other during film workshops ahead of the shoot. Since he considered them "the unlikeliest pair to come together", he brought them together right into the shoot filming an important scene, where they had to insult each other. Though he was initially anxious, it all turned out well and he was surprised by the resulting chemistry.
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