Wednesday, November 21, 2012


At a time when the svelte Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi were gyrating their toned bodies in westernized garments to bollywood songs , at a time when Dimple Kapadia Wore a bikini , the south indian film industry was churning. They had had a spate of dichotomous good/bad, heroine/villainess classification and functioned within these antinomies in a self righteous way. Sexuality was kept under wraps and a puritanical reticence was promulgated with occasional iconoclastic ripples but an otherwise unchanged moral superstructure.

Enter silk Smitha a dark, voluptuous woman who dared to flaunt her sexuality, unafraid to show her curves, even rejoicing in her unconventional plumpness. At a time when a certain physical type of body was burgeoning Silk smitha dared to bare. Be it as a seductress or temptress or an item girl her irresistible allure ruled the industry down south for 15 yrs. In her real life persona too  contradictory terms have been used to describe her. There was an incident when the megastar shivaji ganeshan entered the studio and everyone stood up respectfully or obsequiously except silk who crossed one leg over the other and sat undaunted. Later she was to say that she remained sitting because she felt apprehensive about her revealing dress.

So what is it about this dark, plump woman that without her a movie was incomplete and who became the sole reason for moviegoers to go to the cinema hall. Perhaps she actualized and rendered palpable the collective fantasy of the south indian male. Subterranean eroticism embodied in repression or vicariously realized in soft porn malayalam pulp  suddenly became mainstream. What Silk smitha demonstrated was a divesting of double standards and hypocritical accoutrements as she extricated what was nascent and dormant and exposed it. In any film industry a substratum of sexuality proliferates underneath a respectable veneer. Sex is ubiquitous though sanctimoniously disavowed. Silk Smitha exposed this undercurrent of sexuality and exposed an industry's camouflaged self deceptions. Yet she was self righteously repudiated. The word 'dirty' was used by many women down south when i spoke about here. 'Cheap', 'vulgar' were other moral opprobrium lavishly bestowed. But that which was lodged in the male psyche was exposed and therein lay her feminism.

While her exposure of the body meant playing into the male gaze it also implied a stripping away of the male gaze's self created defense mechanisms. Silk Smitha is both id and superego. She is the primordial, earthily sensuous woman yet her cinematic ratification implies that her allure was distilled and measured circumspectly by the patriarchal superego. Yet the primitive sheen was unobliterated, rather enhanced by these metonymic significations. Even now, retroactively it is difficult to conceptualize how a dark skinned, plump woman could rule the roost and whose appeal, while it temporally lasted, was unalterably consistent. A comfort with one's body, no matter what one's size was epitomized by silk. It also revealed that the anorexic, bag of bones heroines were just pleasurable barbie dolls meant to sing and dance. The impalpable yet incontrovertible eroticism lay in a physiognomy that didn't correspond to the stereotype or the dominant discourse.

Silk Smitha's baroque variations of sexual nonconformity manifested themselves multifariously. In Sadma she was the coy yet bold seductress trying to woo kamal hassan. Her ability to perform bold lovemaking scenes must surely have liberated south indian cinema. As a homosexual i remember fancying myself in her place and syncopating to the rococo pyrotechnics of unbridled  sexuality. No woman had dared to be so blatantly seductive. Through some indeterminate loophole in the self justifying metaphysics  of the industry, she inveigled herself in and once ensconced was difficult to dislodge.

Along a lateral spectrum Silk Smitha emerges as being on an equal level with her co stars in the roles she performs. Her sexuality is indubitably a weapon but she is not the demure woman demanding security and saccharine, candy floss love. She calls for an egalitarian commingling, a at times impersonal yet tantalizing intersection of flesh with flesh. She bares her bosom, exposes her thunder thighs and the south indian male is titillated uncontrollably. While her patriarchal subsumption is indisputable her emergent feminist consciousness is something  her 21st century counterparts owe her gratitude to.

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