Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
SFFS’s Artist-in-Residence Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely
it is illegal to exhibit films that are not certified by India’s so-called censorship
board. Of course, it happens
anyway. For so-called “C-Grade” filmmakers
and performers, going legit is a tricky proposition, but Bollywood dreams die
hard in San Francisco Film Society Artist-in-Residence Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely (trailer
here). In addition to the Society’s educational
outreach programs for local schools and aspiring filmmakers, Ahluwalia will
attend a screening of Miss Lovely and
participate in a special artist talk, both of which should be fascinating,
because this is a film guaranteed to inspire questions, starting with just how
much of his misadventures in underground filmmaking are based on truth.
Duggal Brothers specialize in grinding out horror-themed sex features for the seamy
C-Grade circuit. Vicky is a born user
who calls the shots, while Sonu is sensitive and passive by nature. They specialize in production, leaving
distribution to their dodgy associates.
When Vicky gets ideas about vertical integration, it causes considerable
difficulties. However, personal problems
will be the brothers’ ultimate undoing.
is completely enamored with Pinky, a girl from a strictly traditional family,
who harbors aspirations of Bollywood stardom.
The quiet Duggal Brother is determined to finance and direct a
mainstream star vehicle for her, to be titled Miss Lovely. He is even
willing to use his brother’s money to do so.
Fraternal ties are frayed and secrets are revealed, as the illicit combination
of sex and money inevitably leads to tragedy.
Ahluwalia intended to make a documentary about the scandalous C-Grade film
industry, but reconceived Miss Lovely as
a narrative feature out of necessity. He
definitely immerses viewers in the sleazy, dangerous vice world. For the most part, he deliberately eschews
the hallmarks Bollywood filmmaking.
Nonetheless, the frequently funky soundtrack goes down smooth.
a glamorization of C-Grade films, Ahluwalia portrays the Duggal’s enterprise as
grubby, exploitative, and thoroughly dominated by underworld types. It is far more a cautionary tale than a Hindi
Boogie Nights. Things definitely come to grief pretty darn
fast. Yet, somehow the faux cheesy scenes
of the Duggals’ naughty horror movies will appeal to a lot of cult viewers’
inner Tarantinos. Indeed, production and
costume designer Tabasheer Zutshi’s team does spot-on work fully recreating this
lurid environment on-screen.
importantly, this is clearly a milieu Ahluwalia fully understands. Straddling genres, he toys with crime story
elements, but essentially tells a Cain and Abel tale, skewering India’s celebrity-obsessed
culture and sexual hypocrisy along the way.
Stylistically, he spans the gamut from trippily disorienting to
in-your-face naturalism. This is
kitchen-sink filmmaking at its most relentlessly indie.
George’s Vicky Duggal is a compulsively watchable, almost mesmeric
pseudo-villain. Nearly unrecognizable from
Gangs of Wasseypur, Nawazuddin
Siddiqui revels in cringy pathos as poor Sonu. Frankly, much of the supporting
cast-members are essentially hanging on for dear life, but that sort of works
given the circumstances.
Big, bold, and fearless, Miss Lovely approximates the sweep and scale of the Bollywood it
rejects. Part expose and part fall-from-grace
epic, Miss Lovely is highly recommended
for connoisseurs of Indian art cinema and those who simply love films about
filmmaking (in all its ragged forms). It
screens at the New Peoples Cinema in San Francisco this Thursday (2/28), with
Ahluwalia’s Artist Talk to follow next Tuesday (3/5) at FilmHouse, as part of
his residency now underway with the San Francisco Film Society.
Labels: Ashim Ahluwalia, SFFS Artist-in-Residence