Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Anil George
Director: Ashim Ahluwalia
Director Ashim Ahluwalia's Miss Lovely is set in the Hindi movie business of the eighties...but not the one that features the Khans or the Kapoors. These are the C-grade horror and sex movies, a thriving industry of its own. The film opens with a dingy theatre packed with men watching one of those classic Ramsay Brothers horror flicks that we watched as children - the sort that had a chudail (witch) grabbing a man by his throat. When the movie stops abruptly, the audience starts heckling. Enter Sonu Duggal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who quickly inserts a soft porn clip of a woman panting and moaning with a man all over her. The crowd cheers passionately.
Despite this enthusiastic response day after day, Sonu Duggal wants a change of scene. With those soulful eyes, he longs for something meaningful, aspiring to make a Bollywood song-n-dance romantic film that will get him out of this smutty-movie morass. His brother, and boss, Vicky Duggal (Anil George) is contemptuous of this plan, deeply entrenched as he is in the dirty business of making zero-budget skin flicks. Sonu meets Pinky (Niharika Singh) on a train by chance, and decides to make 'Miss Lovely', a respectable film with Pinky as the heroine. But the trouble is that he falls for his muse, and Pinky isn't who she really seems.
Ahluwalia, who last made the call-center documentary John and Jane, intended to apply the same unscripted approach to telling the story of India's adult movie business. However, when these pornographers refused to reveal their identities for the camera, Ahluwalia decided that a fictional feature may be the only way to explore the subject. Yet, Miss Lovely retains a docu-drama feel, recreating that sleazy side of Mumbai with seedy-looking characters, cramped offices, cheap hotel rooms, and stark warehouses. The film has a consistently realistic feel, particularly because of its impeccable production design. There are strong performances from Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anil George, playing the diametrically opposite Duggal Brothers, both simmering with frustrations. Miss Lovely captures a palpable sense of atmospherics, making you feel as if you are part of that era even if its world seems alien.
Alas, the picture falters because of its inconsistent narrative. Despite the fascinating premise at its core, the film sometimes feels like a slog, because of those long stretches that contain no dialogue and very little action. As a result it's hard to be emotionally invested in the characters or their motivations, even though the film journeys to an explosive end.
I'm going with three out of five for Ashim Ahluwalia's Miss Lovely. Selected to play in the prestigious Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes film festival in 2012, it's an unconventional watch, yes, but it's also refreshing to see a different kind of Indian cinema make its place in the world.