Miss Lovely

Documaker Ashim Ahluwalia ("John & Jane") makes an impressive transition to features with "Miss Lovely," an atmospheric tragedy set in the sordid world of Bombay's exploitation-film industry during the late 1980s.

With: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Niharika Singh, Anil George, Zeena Bhatia, Ragesh Asthanaa, Menaka Lalwani. (Hindi dialogue)

Documaker Ashim Ahluwalia (“John & Jane”) makes an impressive transition to features with “Miss Lovely,” an atmospheric tragedy set in the sordid world of Bombay’s exploitation-film industry during the late 1980s. There, on the wrong side of the law, labor the purveyors of cheap titillation for audiences that, in the words of one financier, “want to see naked girls, pretty and shameless.” Something new in Indian filmmaking, neither Bollywood nor traditional art cinema, the pic provides provides a unique, immersive experience that will need kudos and critical support to boost international arthouse sales.


Like “Boogie Nights,” “Miss Lovely” offers a visually stunning evocation of a disreputable subculture, although it lacks that pic’s rooting dramatic interest. Spanning the years 1986-92, a time of change for the gutter-film business and the characters, the story centers on brothers and unequal partners in crime Vicky (Anil George, intense) and Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, vague), small-time producers of cheap sex-and-horror pics cranked out in malodorous hotel rooms and deserted warehouses.


Unscrupulous, ambitious Vicky is the brains of the outfit, exploiting dimwitted Sonu, a series of actress-wannabe girl friends and the rest of his crew. Yet, to Vicky’s fury, he’s just a low man on the totem pole. The real money goes to the crime syndicates controlling distribution of the films to small towns all over India.


In between shoots, cast and crew hang out in sleazy hotels and smoke-filled dives where plentiful drink stokes baser instincts and violence is apt to break out at any moment. When Vicky throws over aging alcoholic diva Poonam (Zeena Bhatia) for sexy babe Nadia (Menaka Lalwani) and makes her his new star, it’s just one of the film’s many betrayals.


Sonu, the closest thing to a sympathetic character here, becomes increasingly resentful of Vicky’s high-handed ways. When Sonu meets Pinky (Niharika Singh), a struggling actress, he becomes obsessed with directing her in a film of his own, a romance to be called “Miss Lovely.” But unbeknownst to Sonu, Pinky has a shadowy past in which Vicky figures prominently.


Some viewers may feel the conception of Sonu as a passive simpleton — until the worm turns — upsets the dramatic balance of the film. But those who go with the flow will find the thrill is in the Mumbai-born, Bard College-trained helmer’s bravura and baroque visual style, one that owes as much to docu and experimental filmmakers as to Scorsese, Welles and von Sternberg, plunging viewers into the characters’ social milieu.


Per press notes, Ahluwalia spent several years in the late 1990s investigating underground filmakers for a docu project that ultimately fell though because it was too dangerous for his contacts to appear on screen. His research pays off in full here, making palpable the sweat, blood and tears of these misfits working on the margins.


The mesmerizing widescreen lensing of Mohanan finds beauty as well as grotesquerie in Bombay’s seamy underbelly. In many shots, he mediates the image through screens, windows and wafting plumes of smoke.


Every element of the intelligent production design works in aid of helmer’s vision. The color-faded Kodak stock and 1980s costumes and hairstyles nail the period while a throbbing electronic score sows seeds of unease.


The exploitation films within the film are handled discreetly, with their titles and taglines more lurid than anything shown onscreen.

Miss Lovely


Production: A Future East production with support from the Global Film Initiative. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Ashim Ahluwalia. Executive producer, Shumona Goel. Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia. Screenplay, Ahluwalia, Uttam Sirur.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, Super 16-to-35mm), K.U. Mohanan; editors, Ahluwalia, Paresh Kamdar, Maryann D'Souza; music, Masta Justy; production designers, Ahluwalia, Tabasheer Zutshi, Parichit Paralkar; costume designers, Zutshi, Sheetal Sharma; sound (Dolby Digital 5.1), Tarun Bhandari; associate producers, Sanjay Shah, Pinaki Chatterjee. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 24, 2012. Running time: 115 MIN.

Cast: With: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Niharika Singh, Anil George, Zeena Bhatia, Ragesh Asthanaa, Menaka Lalwani. (Hindi dialogue)

More Scene

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse Opens New Downtown Los

    Alamo Drafthouse Storms into L.A. with New Location

    “Cinema is alive and well tonight!” Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League declared at the theatrical venue’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday night, where a gathering of 160 employees cheered and sliced into a strip of 35mm film in keeping with the company’s tradition. Despite dire predictions heralding the end of the theater-going experience, League was upbeat [...]

  • America Ferrera'Superstore' TV show photocall, Comic

    America Ferrera Blasts 'Send Her Back' Chant: 'Embarrassing and Shameful'

    America Ferrera has been a longtime political activist who has focused a large part of her work on immigrant rights. She’s now speaking out about the chant of “send her back” targeting Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar that was shouted at a President Donald Trump rally earlier this week. “It’s devastating and shocking and embarrassing and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content