Despite its cheerful title, the Indian film “Miss Lovely” is no bubbly, Bollywood romantic comedy.
What it is exactly is a little uncertain, given the film’s curiously sluggish pace for a retro-thriller and discouragingly murky camerawork that makes action sequences, especially, hard to follow.
But the subject of this first narrative feature by documentary filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia is certainly unusual: the sleazy, dangerous 1980s scene in Bombay for underground pulp-and-pornography films.
At the story’s center is the always-tense relationship between two brothers who produce absurd creature features full of nudity and sex scenes. The elder filmmaker, Vicky (Anil George), is the hustler, dissatisfied with being a bottom-scraper instead of a rich player. Yet the criminals to whom he looks for financing prefer to keep him under their heels.
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Vicky’s younger sibling, Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), is even further down the food chain, a helpless gofer (think of Fredo in “The Godfather”) who gets confused while counting money yet chafes against constraints on his own ambitions.
When Sonu meets the seemingly angelic Pinky (Niharika Singh) and decides to build a romantic feature around her called “Miss Lovely,” dreams collide with a harsh world of unforgiving gangsters and corrupt cops that has boxed in the brothers forever.
Ahluwalia eschews the standard tension and abruptness that define contemporary thrillers, preferring to lure a viewer haltingly through the secret world of backstage exploitation filmmaking. His long, shadowy hallways and cluttered, filthy storage rooms where sex scenes are filmed are indeed a revelation about a grim, marginal industry.
But Ahluwalia’s self-conscious deliberateness and often sloppy action sap “Miss Lovely” of vitality, making the film a slog.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com