The Wet Dream Girl
Her name could’ve been her misfortune had its sheer audacity not titillated the janta’s curiosity. The poverty-stricken peasant girl from Vijaywada, Vijayalakshmi showed her first spark of shrewd foresight when she launched herself in the Malayalam film industry as a maamuli extra starting from scratch, but set herself apart illustriously calling herself Silk Smitha…
The name started a unique epidemic. It was widely mocked, and funster Deven Varma’s reaction was the typical example of it. “I have decided to launch my next venture under the banner of Handloom Productions, with Cotton Kumar and Terylene Tara playing the romantic lead,” he quipped sarcastically. “Needless to add, Silky Smitha will do a guest appearance in the film.” His joke however was no laughing matter in the South. It was actually happening! A producer had launched a vamp called Nylex Nalini, another was toying with the idea of making a film with Georgette Ganga. Everyone was cashing in on the brainwave, the logic being if silk could appeal, why not the nylons and the polyesters?
Of course, none did. In fact in the recent past, no other vamp has been able to whip up audience frenzy to the extent Smitha has, without too much effort. The earthy, dark complexion, thick, twitching lips, intense come-hither eyes and amply-stacked bosom literally bring out the beast in a man. Distributors exploit her blantantly in Madras. Driving through the busy Mount Road, one is bound to see at least half-a-dozen hoardings displaying life-size cut-outs of Silk Smitha in various stages of nudity, with titillating titles like ‘Silk By Nights’, ‘Silk By Rape’, ‘Drivers Beware, Silk Smitha Is Coming’, or even ‘Silk Silk Silk’. Initially, the poor peasant girl had protested in shame. “How can they make mud of my reputation by changing the original titles and making me out to be the most hard-up nymphomaniac?” she’d wailed. In vain of course. Today, Silk Smitha is making the same men pay for the image.
I am not her distributor or exploiter, just an excited fan, but I don’t mind paying for the pleasure. I was maha turned on just by looking at the hoardings all over the city when I visited Madras a couple of years ago, when Silk Smitha was slowly and surely emerging as a sex-symbol to beat all sex-symbols. I was desperate to meet her, not only for an interview, but also to satisfy the voyeur in me. Language proved to be a major handicap when I descended on her sets for the first time. She didn’t know English or Hindi, only Telugu. And I knew only Tamil.
Today, however, Vijayalakshmi’s rags to riches story is at its climax. When I was in Madras last month. I was shocked to hear Silk Smitha getting gaalis when I asked for her whereabouts. “She’s the typical film star,” a photographer told me with disgust. “She has forgotten the days when she used to ask us to help her out where her publicity was concerned. Today, she is so haughty with us. She thinks she is here to stay forever. We can create hundred Silk Smithas!” Apparently, like the angry middle-aged hero in Bombay, the South Indian sex-symbol was off the local press, but available to the national press for unrestricted country-wide coverage!
Her bungalow is more walled-in, barred and protected than even the middle-aged hero’s home in Bombay. Uniformed security guards stand at the gates and grant entrance only if the star has specially informed them about your arrival. One doesn’t drop in on Silk Smitha. Not that it’d help, since the actress is next-to-never at home! Busy round the clock, her day begins as early as 5.00 a.m. She wakes, bathes, has breakfast and is ready with make-up by 6.45 am to drive into the studios on the dot of 7 am for the first shot. Work carries on till 2 or 3 am, leaving Smitha with barely three or four hours for sleep.
Even in the studios, it is virtually impossible to talk to her without interruption. The actress is continuously hounded by photographers, press and producers who visit her to confirm her call-sheets. It isn’t an unusual sight to find Silk Smitha wearing a bra and pantie or some other filmsy itsy-bitsy costume and holding forth across the table with journalists and filmmakers. A coterie of hangers-on surround her wherever she is, comprising her make-up man, hairdresser, an errand boy, apart from a boyfriend of the moment, the latest, according to confidential reports from Madras, is supposed to have recently run away with a lot of her money after promising to marry her.
At work, the siren is a hard-core professional, unrelenting and uncompromising in what she considers her due. Aware that her image can expose her to a lot of disrespect and crude remarks, Silk Smitha safeguards herself by behaving the superstar to the hilt. Her arrivals at the studios, for instance, are almost ceremonial. A servant enters first, carrying a special chair for Madam, followed by the rest of the star paraphernalia – make-up, wigs, costumes, coffee flasks, food, etc. Smitha makes her entry when the entire stage is set, usually followed by the film’s dance director who has to work on her that day.
The sex queen is rumoured to charge as much as half-a-lakh for a number, and why not, when just five minutes of provocative gyrating and wriggling guarantees an immediate and exorbitant sale of the film’s world rights! In fact, these days, many producers who have been stuck with an unsold film for ages, have merely incorporated a dance-sequence with Smitha and has had distributors queueing up for the same!
Ironically, the attraction lies not in the numbers themselves, not even in the dancer’s grace or adeptness, but in the overpowering aura of sex that reverberates whenever Silk Smitha appears on the screen. A famous dance-director confessed to me off the record. “We have to slog on her because she is no good as a dancer. But who cares for ability to dance as long as she can hold the audience enrapt with her thighs?” Of course, there are a few filmwallas who consider Smitha too crude for their tastes. K. Balachander has sworn never to cast her because he doesn’t want any film of his to run because of Silk Smitha. Another director Bhagyaraj has deliberately cast Deepa in a role in his Mundanai Mudichu which had been ear-marked by the producers for Smitha. As Rajinder, another successful director, puts it, “Only if you are ready to mortgage your self-respect, will you sign Smitha for your film. I do not need Silk Smitha to sell a film of mine!”
Such self-righteousness enrages the star. “Am I whoring myself by entertaining hundreds of clients day and night?” she screams heatedly. “I am only wriggling my bottom on the sets for dance-numbers because that’s what people want from me. What’s wrong with it? Why should I stop doing sexy numbers, just because some people can’t digest my success? I care two hoots for these cads!
“There was a time when producers treated me with contempt,” Smitha recalls wryly. “Today, it is my turn to turn the tables. Today they hound me only because I am saleable and the distributors are keen on buying a film if I am there to wriggle my bottom. I am making my future secure by fending for myself when it is raining cats and dogs in my field. Who knows what’s in store for me tomorrow? Even if I am lying on my death-bed, none of these producers who are praising me sky high, will be there to lend me a helping hand. Will the press which writes volumes about vulgarity and crudity in the kind of roles that I am doing in films, come forward to feed my family if I am down and out tomorrow? If I refuse to bare my body, do you think there will be no more vulgarity in Indian films? My foot! If I say no, there are dozens of girls, waiting to offer their services to producers. So why should I let the ground slip right from under my feet wantonly?”
Smitha does have a point there. Because though she won accolades for her memorable performance as the bhabhi in the Tamil original of Rajendra Kumar’s Lovers, hardly one or two producers bothered to repeat her in an acting role in their films. “If I only do roles like these, I’ll end up as yet another character-artiste sans glamour, with a mere pittance as my daily wages!” Smitha snaps irately. “I am not interested in remaining glued to the throne which I am holding right now. I’ll make my pile of money and retreat to a tranquil place where nobody will be able to disturb me. The only person who matters most to me is my mother. I want to see her happy forever.”
Smitha is shrewd enough to realise the short span of star careers and accepts the fact that though a hot favourite today, she can’t afford to be too choosy or fussy. “Make hay while the sun shines is my policy when I am in show business. I was keen on emoting as an actress too. But, in order to survive, you have to cast away your clothes, I have no hang-ups. I may be crude but I am not vulgar. If you are in Rome, you ought to be a Roman. How can you be a sati savitri in a nudist camp? Since I have made dancing in films my profession I cannot afford to crib about exposing myself. Now that I am in the field, I am ready to play the game the way it ought to be played. By game I do not mean sleeping around, but compromising on the kind of roles I get saddled with. If I have to survive for a couple of years in this industry, I have no other alternative.”
In fact, Smitha really scandalised a producer of hers when she herself offered to strip next-to-nothing for a sexy number in his film, provided he could get the Censors to retain the scene! Sometime back, she again ran into hot water when she jokingly told a journalist that she intended marrying a Censor Board official in order to ensure that her scenes didn’t get scissored at the Censor’s table! Producers who had Silk Smitha in their films, had to get together and send a petition to the Board, with a public apology from Silk Smitha to smoothen things out.’
Anyway, Smitha has learnt to shrug away the criticism as a price for her stardom. ”Politics is there wherever you go in filmdom,” she points out. “Though I do not indulge in petty politics, like gypping some other artiste of her role, a vast majority do exactly that here. Just because a couple of films in which I played the heroine flopped, there are people who go around from one producer’s office to another’s, telling them that if they cast Smitha as the heroine, their film will flop. I do not wish ill for others, why do others wish ill for me?” The resentment and hostility is on the rise now that Smitha is encroaching into Bombay. The actress has been terribly disillusioned by Sadma’s failure, especially, since she’d kept a large chunk of her dates free for the subsequent onslaught of Hindi offers she’d expected. However, she isn’t ready to give up yet, and has films like Ithihas, Silk Mera Naam and Anita Mera Naam to cry to lure the masses again.
Silk Smitha’s impending advent is naturally making Bombay’s hot vamp Kalpana Iyer rather shaky, and she is sparing no efforts to bar Smitha’s entry. “Why should Kalpana Iyer get paranoid about my breezing in on the Hindi scene?” the South Indian rival demands. “I hear she has been passing uncharitable remarks about me for no rhyme or reason. I am not here to compete with Kalpana Iyer or any other Iyengar. I am here to broaden my horizons. If at all, I am scared of someone, it is someone like Helen or even Bindu for that matter. I have always admired them for their dance numbers. Kalpana is no patch on me.
“Look here. I want to make it not only on the Hindi screen, but God willing, even on the international screen. What’s wrong if you have an ambition? When I made my debut with a Malayalam film called Inaiyai Thedi, I never even dreamt that a day would come when I will be a sought after artiste in Madras. I switched over from the Malayalam to Telugu srceen and later onto the Tamil screen. Now all I want to do is to make my presence felt as far as the Hindi screen
Well, she’s getting a second chance – and who knows, it might work. After all it did the trick for the two other South Indian actresses – Sridevi and Jaya Prada!