If you’re looking for Bollywood song-and-dance, you’ve come to the wrong neighborhood. Miss Lovely, Ashim Ahluwalia’s first narrative feature, takes us deep into the gangland precincts of Bombay’s low-budget Eighties filmmaking scene. Staffing softcore porn and horror films with new recruits under varying degrees of duress, exploitation director Vikky shoots writhing young things in titillating sex scenes, enduring the whims of his producer-gangster boss. There’s no business like sleaze business—until his hapless gofer brother Sonu gets the idea to make his own opus with the girl of his dreams, an apparent ingénue.
Despite the potential for twisty storytelling, Ahluwalia takes things slow, putting a premium on chest-hair ambience and labyrinthine backrooms, all unspooling in sumptuous cinemascope. Sonu is tragically in over his head from the outset, scared stiff and clammily trapped in Ahluwalia’s visual compositions. The violence endemic to Vikky’s sex-horror-gonzo fare rears its ugly head in the no-less-lurid real world— the film acknowledges the low-life breed of the players in this illicit industry.
The Bard-educated Ahluwalia, who directed the feature-like call-center documentary John & Jane (05), knows his stuff. In the Nineties, he tried to chronicle the unsavory “C-grade” film scene, but abandoned the project when his subjects kept refusing to talk because of their underworld connections. In one press interview for Miss Lovely, Ahluwalia said he drew inspiration from these marginal moviemakers, some of them ex-convicts: “Their raw energy reminded me of why I set out to make films in the first place.” Sure beats Sundance.