Saturday, January 18, 2014


Release date:
January 17, 2014
Ashim Ahluwalia


Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Niharika Singh, Anil George, Zeena Bhatia, Menaka Lalwani
Miss Lovely's poster for India is attractive, but more conventional than the international poster (below)

Miss Lovely is unnerving. In the multi-hued world inhabited by Mumbai film makers, it’s a story that could well be told in two ways: either with a slew of “item” numbers woven into the script or without the crutches of song & dance to keep the viewer seated in the hall. It chooses the latter, presenting to us in the starkest fashion imaginable, the sex-horror film industry of 1980s Mumbai. Here on the sidelines of life, the makers of these flicks operate in the shadows, away from the eyes of the law.

When the curtain rises, Sonu Duggal is on the margins of the trade while his elder brother Vicky is a well-entrenched director of sleaze. Sonu wants to make a film himself, but is pulled in other directions too as he falls in love with a mysterious stranger called Pinky. She is ambitious but innocent despite already being an “actress” plus call girl who is caged in, or so she says, by a maama who does not approve of such work.

We are told next to nothing about the backgrounds of the three protagonists, no schmaltzy back stories are served up to win our sympathy. The easiest thing might have been to wring out a few tears from the audience by making this a film about good people thrown by circumstances into a shady business. Miss Lovely does not do that. It might have been tempting too to make this about the trafficking of helpless women so that our hearts would automatically bleed for them, but Miss Lovely doesn’t do that either. This is not to say that there is no exploitation taking place in the porn industry, but that that’s a different discussion. Here what we get is a take-it-or-leave narration of what’s going on in the here and now on screen.

The international poster for Miss Lovely
Still, this is a film filled with pathos. Many of the characters are matter-of-fact in their manner of conducting business, yet desperation comes through the behaviour of others. There’s the ageing star discarded by Vicky. There’s the middle-aged, overweight woman who gingerly steps into the office of a midget film maker to show him her photographs, then responds to his lack of enthusiasm by saying “main nanga naach bahut achchha karti hoon” and starts dancing most awkwardly right there, unmindful of her belly fat or the stranger in the man’s office. That scene is hilarious on the face of it and yet so pathetic. Is it poverty or convenience? We don’t get to ask why she chooses this profession. Yet it’s hard not to wonder: what could possibly prompt a human being to let go of her dignity so completely in this fashion?

Ashim Ahluwalia’s direction of his debut fiction feature is unhesitant and sure-footed. He shares credit for the well-rounded screenplay with Uttam Sirur. He is also one of the film’s three production designers, and a co-editor with Paresh Kamdar. The casting – of the three leads, supporting players and extras – is flawless. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Sonu embraces the shades of grey in his character in a manner that only he can. Mohanan’s camera hugs the actor’s face so close so much of the time, that a lesser artiste’s chinks would have come through at some point. Our man Nawaz is clearly not that lesser actor. As noteworthy as his impeccable talent is his striking charisma and the lure of those beautiful eyes on that jagged face. Equally striking is the eerily real Anil George making his screen debut as Sonu’s elder brother Vicky (another gift to cinema from theatre, after that fantastic Neeraj Kabi from Ship of Theseus), as is the fragile-looking Niharika Singh playing the enigmatic Pinky.

Miss Lovely’s production design is as unapologetically naked as its storytelling style. No effort is made to pretty up the shady spaces in which those blue films are shot. As for the sound design, it is almost like a character in the film. Silences and natural noise are used by turns to enhance the atmospherics. There’s one especially memorable scene when the orgasmic gasps of a woman in the throes of sexual intercourse merge with the choking breaths of a man as he is being murdered.   

This film was part of the official selection in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival 2012. Almost two years on, India’s Central Board of Film Certification has not spared Miss Lovely, but I guess it’s a mark of how much we’ve progressed in our acceptance of sex and sexuality on screen that it’s not been banned altogether. Media reports say there have been a few cuts – fortunately I didn’t notice any jumps.

Miss Lovely is a curious film when viewed against the conventional cinematic landscape of Mumbai. It’s not “commercial” in the accepted sense, but it’s nothing like the old “art” films either. It so real that it sometimes feels like a documentary, yet it’s so clearly a fiction feature. This is a film about brothers at war, ill-fated love and betrayal against the backdrop of an illegal industry. It’s got all the essential ingredients for a potboiler: high drama, emotion, comedy, tragedy, crime, sex, romance, action. Yet – and this is the catch – there’s nothing here that formula film makers might call “masala”. Frankly, Miss Lovely has far less sexual content than the average Bollywood item song. Unlike the average item song though, it’s not suggestive; it’s clinical, merely telling it like it is. The sex is not shot in an exploitative fashion at all, nor is it titillating. It’s just … how does one put it? It’s just there. This is truly an intriguing film.

Rating (out of five): ****

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
113 minutes

Poster courtesy:

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