Shiny disco balls and Nazia Hassan’s distinctive vocals on Dum Dum De De juxtapose with the grime and squalor of 1980s Bombay. This is the not-so lovely world of Miss Lovely. The C-grade film industry offers the backdrop for this story of sibling rivalry, romance and crime.
Ashim Ahluwalia, wearing multiple hats of writer, director, editor and sound designer meticulously creates a world where fake blood is copiously used and the casting couch is worn out. You can see the layer of dust and dirt on every surface; you can feel the desperation of the wannabe-actors and grimace at the thought of the sweaty palms of greasy financiers who unashamedly exploit the young girls who wander into their web.
This shady world of horror and sex films is exacerbated by Mohan’s fabulous camerawork. The makers use Super 16 to deliver a grainy, retro texture to further transport you into the hopeless recesses of the world inhabited by Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Vicky Duggal (Anil George). The brothers make cheap sex movies in a time when film is giving way to video and an aging porn star is being replaced by a younger, bolder aspirant. Things begin to unravel when Sonu’s dream go out of synch with Vicky’s. Sonu finds hope for a more respectable future when he falls in love with Pinky (Niharika Singh).
One of my favourite scenes is that of the middle-aged woman giving an impromptu audition of her ‘sexy dance’ to the vertically-challenged film producer. I also loved Ahluwalia’s ability to create claustrophobia in the Duggal world but show the sparseness of Bombay of the 80s, via, for example, the virtually empty upper deck of a ferry in Bombay harbour.
Another hero of the film is the casting. Each and every supporting cast member is so natural.
The languid story telling is of the European art-house mould, unhurried and twisty, much like this milieu. There are some seemingly unnecessary insertions of shots of plants, leafy lanes and factories. You also wish the story went back a bit more or added another layer. However the director maintains a slightly distant, non-judgmental approach bringing us to a shocking denouement.
Siddiqui brings alive his smouldering Sonu, adding one missing layer to the character and giving him such pathos you root for him unashamedly.
Miss Lovely is a visceral treat.