DIRTY MISS LOVELY
A stunning debut film takes us into the grimy world of the C-grade cinema industry of Bombay in the 1980s
Bibi Sarkar Delhi
The title of the film might be a bit anodyne for those expecting something of substance from National Award winning filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia, but don’t be mistaken. There is, in fact, nothing lovely about ‘Miss Lovely’. Do yourself a favour and watch this gem of a film at the soonest. Maybe even twice. That’s because Ahluwalia’s debut feature is one of the most unsettling and yet terrifically beautiful films of this year.
Set in the heart or, rather, the bowels of the thriving C-grade film industry of the 1980s, the film takes a long, unflinching look at the mechanisms of a dog-eat-dog industry where porn and horror make strange bedfellows – hotel rooms and abandoned sheds turn into makeshift sets, where the ability to act is never the criterion, but showing ample skin is. The stylized opening credits, with all its technicolour gaudiness, reveals immediately what we are dealing with and with barely a moment to catch our breath we are plunged deep into the world of dirty pictures. A fly-by-night industry, not only coated in a thick veneer of dirt and sleaze, but populated by greasy, leery men who call the shots and budding starlets who dream of making it big.
A world where the lights are always dimmed, business always takes place behind locked doors and whisky flows like water. A murky, claustrophobic and grainy world where chop-and-change is the unquestioned order of the day and violence speaks louder than words. However, this film is not about the films themselves, but the people who feed this industry.
The film places Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the younger brother of Vicky (Anil George), a C-grade film producer, in the midst of all the action. More his brother’s right-hand man and runner, Sonu longs to break away from the industry. In the middle of all his wheeling and dealing, he falls in love with an aspiring actress called Pinky (Niharika Singh) and promises to make a heroine out of her. However, we all know that not only is the relationship predestined for a tragic ending but through the doomed character of Sonu we get a fleeting yet frightening glimpse of the ruthless industry at large.
A sprinkling of characters becomes the touchstone in a narrative concerned largely with holding up a mirror to the industry, rather than charting the ups and downs of their lives. And as far as the main characters are concerned, it’s only a series of downs that punctuate their lives. The bigger beast under the scanner is the industry itself, a large and looming juggernaut that entrenches souls and ruthlessly spits out those who cannot comply with its ever-shifting rules of the game.
The art direction is superb, with every scene detailed in all its shabby glory, creating a palpable and tension-fraught atmosphere where anything can happen anytime, where things can move in any direction. Right from the 100-rupee notes to matchboxes, the attention to detail is more than spectacular, and enhanced by impeccable performances by Siddiqui, George and Singh.
A difficult and sprawling subject cannot be distilled into a bite-sized film but Ahluwalia’s attempt is a brilliant and nuanced one. He allows the viewer an almost voyeuristic peep into the seedy world of C-grade films where money talks and violence is the order of the day. Perfectly crafted and sensitively told, this film is sympathetic but not melodramatic. Even though the plot follows no steady path, we all know that the lives plotted in this tale are too tragic to be complete fiction.