There is nothing lovely about the world that director Ashim Ahluwalia creates in Miss Lovely. Set in the mid-1980s, the film is about two brothers who produce C-grade sex and horror films. This is a world in which leering men say lines like “Ladkiyan khubsoorat honi chahiye aur besharam bhi”, and women are clinically reduced to body parts.
It is a world so sordid and sad that the desperation of the characters wafts off the screen. So the younger brother, Sonu (played by the wonderful Nawazuddin Siddiqui), might tell the aspiring actress he loves, “Tum ek din star banogi”, but we know better.
We know there won’t be any happy endings.
Working with the terrific cinematographer Mohanan, Ashim creates a textured and grimly beautiful landscape. It’s a riot of colour amid the smoke, gaudy outfits and seedy spaces in which the film is shot. The claustrophobia of the lives and interiors is palpable. But perhaps, Ashim fell in love with his own visuals, because he stays on each one for much too long.
Miss Lovely is lethargically paced and unnecessarily opaque. At times, I struggled to understand the narrative. And beyond a point, the lack of dramatic momentum was frustrating. Ashim’s characters are fascinating, but his telling is laboured and self-conscious.
And yet I recommend that you see Miss Lovely. Yes, it is an acquired taste. But Ashim Ahluwalia’s distinct and intriguing voice is one more sign of how fundamentally and excitingly the Hindi film topography is changing.