Delving deep into the underbelly of India’s film industry, where back-alley producers churn out everything from pulpy horror movies to soft-core porn, Miss Lovely takes us back to Mumbai of the 1980s with lurid detail and intoxicating style. Working out of sleazy hotels and abandoned warehouses, brothers Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Vicky (Anil George) are prolific producers of trashy, C-grade films for Mumbai’s booming underground market. The ambitious, domineering Vicky is the unquestioned brains of the operation, leading the dim-witted Sonu deeper into a world of alcoholic divas, sleazy money men and movie-loving gangsters. But this precarious partnership is put to the test when the brothers meet Pinky (Niharika Singh), an exquisite ingenue with a shady past.
Director Ashim Ahluwalia began this project as a documentary about India’s underground filmmaking culture before transforming it into a daring fiction feature. The documentary research served him well: real-life events and characters provide fascinating raw material, and detailed production design, color-faded Kodak stock and widescreen lensing recreate the look and feel of 1980s Mumbai, while an unsettling industrial soundscape evokes the tense rhythm of the city’s back alleys. Ahluwalia mixes genres in highly self-aware strokes, bridging the gap between lower Bollywood and Indian art-house cinema, and, echoing Tarantino/Rodriguez’s Grindhouse project, laces Miss Lovely with artfully trashy clips of fake exploitation films, pitched partway between celebration and parody. The cinematic history at the heart of this film is a sordid and violent one, but this thoughtful filmmaker shows both the awful truths of exploitation cinema as well as its strange pleasures. –Cameron Bailey, TIFF