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Miss Lovely

Smut smitten

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THREE'S A CROWD: The film tells the story of two brothers who make sleazy films and fall for the same girl

Miss Lovely has been a long time in the coming. Ashim Ahluwalia's last (and first) film project John & Jane, which looked at the disconcertingly fractured lives of six Mumbai-based call centre executives, was seven years ago. The long interim was spent raising funds and creating infrastructure for this independent project. The wait has been worth it with Miss Lovely being selected for the prestigious Un Certain Regard (A Certain Glance or A Particular Outlook) section at the Cannes Film Festival which opens on May 16.

Miss Lovely started off as a documentary about the C-grade film industry. Eventually though it transformed into a film because this peripheral industry had one too many overlaps with the underworld and prostitution, and people were afraid to go on record.

Discussing documentary vis-a-vis feature film, Ahluwalia says, "The texture and realness of documentary is almost impossible to achieve when you try to recreate it in a fictional setting. Having said that, although there is almost no documentation on Cgrade cinema from the 1980s, I've used many documentary elements in Miss Lovely, like the period locations are real spaces, not sets, many actors are people playing themselves.

"There's a lot of improvisation and reality in the film. At times it feels like Miss Lovely almost doesn't have a script. Yet, of course, it develops in the way a novel would. "

Miss Lovely is set in the Mumbai of the mid-1980 s. It tells the story of two brothers, Vicky and Sonu, who produce sleazy films and end up falling for the same woman. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, whose turn as the hard-boiled, broody intelligence agent in Kahaani, 2012, was more than well received, plays Sonu.

"When I came back to Bombay after studying film in the US, I was looking for a certain kind of cinema that I could relate to because neither Bollywood nor the parallel/ art film tradition were doing it for me, " recalls the 39-year-old Ahluwalia.
So while Sholay, 1975, is still the benchmark for most of Bollywood, Ahluwalia remembers being more impressed by a "weird Malayalam film" he had seen when he was in school. He recounts, "I can't recall it exactly but it had midgets and bits of a German blue movie thrown in. "

The filmmaker recalls watching these films during his schooldays in rundown Grant Road cinemas. But the only films in this genre he remembers clearly are the landmark ones - like the Ramsay Brothers films or Kabrastan.

"I don't think it qualifies as C-grade but I love BR Ishara's Naya Nasha, 1973, although he isn't credited as the director. It's about a traditional Indian housewife who gets addicted to LSD and the ensuing chaos, " he says.

Curiously, Ahluwalia's schoolboy jaunts to the theatre recall the plot of Vikramaditya Motwane's Udaan, which competed in the Un Certain Regard in 2010. The film's 17-year-old protagonist is expelled from his boarding school after the warden catches him watching an adult film off campus.

"Even though C-grade films are pretty awful, I started admiring this stuff because it seemed like genuine independent filmmaking-people working on the margins with insanely low budgets, making cinema with their own sweat, blood and tears, " says the filmmaker about his muse.

Although Ahluwalia's films tackle entirely subaltern realities, they do have something of a lingering saturnine darkness, which lies largely unexplored. The unfamiliar has never failed to intrigue and when on the occasions it has been dislodged, Ahluwalia has gladly moved on.

In the late '90s, long before films happened, DJ INSAT, aka Ahluwalia, was happy exploring music. He, along with a few friends - Kurnal Rawat, Tejas Mangeshkar, Mukul Deora and Jatin Vidyarthi - inaugurated the country's first electronic music collective Bhavishyavani Future Soundz.

"It was a really secret thing, only word of mouth. Most of the parties were inspired by Bombay imagerytaxi art, Ganpati pandal design and this was meshed with great electronic music. Bhavishyavani pretty much set the standard for all of the electronic music collectives that came after. I used to DJ a lot, and I needed to pick a quick DJ moniker for our first flyer so I just chose INSAT, in honour of our Indian satellite. I got done with DJ-ing when it started becoming just another party;I liked the original underground nature of the collective better. "

That wasn't the only collective Ahluwalia has been part of. There has also been the briefly lived - thus far just the inaugural project has come of it - Suspect Collective. For this collective, which worked solely with found material such as photographs, objects, films etc, Ahluwalia was joined by Shumona Goel, Farhad Bomanjee and Dale Cannedy Azim. Explaining his collaborative streak he states, "I love collaborating with friends. I don't work in an industrial way at all. Be it music, costumes or poster design, I work with people I love and whose work I respect. Sometimes this is difficult because I do occasionally want to have total control but it's a balance you try and achieve. "

Late last month Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, announced at a seminar, "Hollywood will be destroyed and no one will notice. But it won't be Wikipedia (or Encarta) that kills the moviemaking industry. Collaborative storytelling and filmmaking will do to Hollywood what Wikipedia did to Encyclopedia Britannica. "

A bit of an exaggeration but an interesting thought nevertheless. Despite his engagement with the collective, it's not a thought Ahluwalia agrees with wholeheartedly. He concludes, "I don't believe films can be made in a totally collaborative way. There needs to be someone steering the whole thing, somebody who keeps the vision of the whole film together. "

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