Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Anil George, Niharika Singh, Menaka Lalvani, Zeena Bhatia, Manoj Bakshi
Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia
Miss Lovely’s reminiscence of ’80s movies begins at the very beginning: with the kaleidoscopic opening credits so well identified with the popular films of the times. Soon, Ashim Ahluwalia steers us to the specifics: the horror-sex pictures that flourished back then, on the margins of mainstream Hindi cinema. Set in these lower depths of the Bombay film industry, Miss Lovely is about the Duggal brothers—Sonu (Nawaz) and Vicky (Anil)—who thrive on making sleazy films.
All the recognisable tropes of such films are present—the kitsch and frenzy, flourescent colours and gaudy sets, voluptuous women and much-exploited “khoobsoorat par besharam” young girls, their ambitious moms and the marauding producers and distributors. For a while, the film seems almost plotless, as though it was merely setting up this seemingly chaotic, constantly combative world with a curiously languid pace and a constantly on the move camera. It captures a slice of an era with a free-flowing narrative marked by intermittent lulls and pauses that could get confounding and forbidding. But it can’t take away from the fact that the zeitgeist is brought alive superbly, be it the Natraj pencil ads on the radio, the much-in-vogue pointy bras, Air India Maharaja models and Japanese dolls or throwaway phrases like “sex ki bhookh”, “badan ki aag”, “kursi mein baith kar bistar ka mazaa”, “pet kaat kaat kar tujhe paala hai”.
Beyond the setting and the period, it’s also about people, their tumultuous relations and conflicts and about love—heartfelt, deluded and, most of all, used as a convenient tool to scale the ladder of success. At the centre of it is Sonu, who nurses an intense dislike for his limiting world, is driven by the urge to escape the dirty business, rise above it and find the respect that eludes him. He seems to personify the perennial search for the mainstream by those on the margins. Things do seem to get too explanatory and obvious towards the end. However, Ashim caps it by not quite saying it all in the last shot and yet laying it all bare.
Nawaz, with those pain-filled eyes and a beautifully broken face, breathes life into the traumatised Sonu. Other new and unfamilar actors also catch the eye, be it Zeena as Poonam, Niharika as Pinky or Menaka as Nadia. The most compelling presence, however, is Anil George as the flashy, florid, ambitious and rapacious elder brother Vicky, in whom I also spotted a faint touch of Vijay Anand.
A film like The Dirty Picture, with its drama, sentimentality and glamour ended up celebrating the sleaze film industry, and turned it palatable for viewers. Miss Lovely does the opposite. It peels the makeup off the glamour world, shows the ugliness, dirt, slime and debauchery on the periphery, however offensive it may be. It doesn’t aim to please.