The film is set in the ‘80s horror-porn industry that operated mostly underground. We see two brothers Sonu and Vicky belting out these sleazy flicks for a repressed audience. The film shows us the sleazy bits for good measure. We also see the cheesy horror make-up and special effects reminding one of the Ramsay films that were equal parts comedy (a burnt-face monster making love to a panting woman, a white-faced ghost grabbing someone’s throat etc).
Off the two brothers, the ambitious Vicky (superbly played by Anil George) wants to get rich quick, while the more naive Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, a delight) is uncomfortable liaising with shady deep pockets.
Sonu falls for Pinky— the shy, demure, Pinky— whose portfolio pic has her hugging a puppy and is so different from the women he encounters in this business. His love for her leads to a further rift between the brothers, leading to a catastrophic finale.
One wishes former documentary filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia (he meant to make this a documentary as well, except that no one was ready to talk on camera) had snuffed out the essence of this industry and period for us, rather than turning it into a love story.
True to his documentary bearings, Ahluwalia’s filmmaking shows deeply researched material. He knows what he’s talking about here, and one can almost feel he wished this were a documentary, and grudgingly added an emotional story to make a feature.
The working of the C-film industry is relegated to the background as we see the equations between the characters pan out. Thing is, the sketchy characterization leaves us unable to connect with the characters. The female characters – Pinky (Niharika Singh), Poonam (Zeena Bhatia) and Nadia (Meneka Lalwani) are relatively more layered (and superbly performed).
No wonder then, that the behind-the-scenes “making” of these films is the most interesting aspect of Miss Lovely. Among the interesting vignettes is an actress meant to do a revealing scene but inhibited by her husband present on the set (which leads to him rudely shooed off by the director). Another one has an actress brazenly undressing and asking for a drink before shooting a sex scene, shot in a rundown place away from the police’s prying eyes.
The film is about exploitation, but it cannot help being exploitative itself. And that is where you disconnect from the film, wondering if you’re watching an unsympathetic voyeuristic spectacle. There is often a seething lack of respect for the subjects that seem to have been presented to the audience for superficial entertainment.
So you have a middle-aged woman in a saree (this is supposed to be funny?) telling a filmmaker she can do sexy moves and then proceeding to do just that as the camera sticks on to show us the “act”. The gaze is decidedly male as you have shots of writhing bodies, and actresses taking off their clothes (like the shot of an actress’s legs as she takes off her clothes for a shot and the producers watch leeringly). Perhaps the intent is to showcase exploitation, but it becomes borderline exploitative in the end.
The ‘80s period, meticulously created, seeps in through the retro ads on the radio, styling and production design. The moody cinematography capturing the underbelly and psychedelic images is a delight. The background score is interesting (at times such that it distracts) and made up of bells, chimes and ambient sounds.
One can see why this film was widely circulated at film fests (though it has received mixed reviews). Credit ought to be given, where due. It has fabulous performances by the cast. Plus, Ahluwalia’s film has the impressive research, technical finesse, genre-breaking style, and an exciting backdrop.
But what’s the point when viewer keeps getting disconnected from the story and characters? In the case of Miss Lovely, the subject and style is far more absorbing than the film. Too bad, really!
Rating: Two and a half stars