His assignment in November had Ashim Ahluwalia shooting with model-turned-actor Arjun Rampal,and just last week he worked with actor Asin. So Bollywood isn’t exactly alien to him,but the 41-year-old director has chosen to dismiss his interaction with the glitzy world of Hindi cinema as his day job as an ad commercial director. My cinema does not fit into the boundaries of Bollywood, says Ahluwalia,the director of the indie film,Miss Lovely,which competed in the Un Certain Regard category at Festival de Cannes in 2012,adding,neither does the way I finance my films and make them.
But his earlier claims of being a Bollywood outsider may no more hold true as Miss Lovely,previously viewed as a festival film based on the world of Bombays C-grade film industry in the 80s releases across 455 screens in India on January 17.
To Ahluwalia,this factor alone defines the success of the film. In February,it will open in France and later,in the US as well as a number of Asian countries,such as Taiwan,Korea and Japan. But the story of ‘Miss Lovely’ is actually local,set in Mumbai’s Lokhandwala and Versova of the ’80s. It would have been really sad were the film not to release in India,” he says.
The plot explores the relationship between two brothers,Sonu and Vicky Duggal,directors of films in the sex-horror genre,and their relationship with actor Pinky. Using the seamy side of the film industry and its props,such as costumes,make-up and production design,as the backdrop,’Miss Lovely’ tells a dark tale that maps the insecurities of the younger sibling and the ambition of the leading lady,who is also his love interest.
While Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the younger brother Sonu,Niharika Singh essays the role of the actor.
Ahluwalias interest in the subject stems from his in-depth research of this world. When he returned from the US in 2001 after studying filmmaking at Bard College,New York,he found himself curious about the workings of the industry. He spent two years researching the functioning and the dynamics and found people opening up to him. But when it was time to make a documentary,they clammed up and the project remained a dream. He took it up nine years later to make a fictional tale on the people in the C-grade film industry.
One of the most fascinating aspects of his findings was the standing of women. Ahluwalia says that while most view the leading ladies of sex-horror films as victims of the male gaze,within that world,they were an empowered lot. “Since the films’ success was practically dependent on the leading ladies,they were treated as stars. Many of them,such as Kanti Shah’s partner Sapna,went on to become producers and directors,” he points out.
But this “dark” and “pulpy” film had its share of trouble with the censors. When he first applied for a censor certificate,the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) suggested several cuts,including some that could have adversely affected the
films narrative. Unwilling to compromise on that,Ahluwalia argued that if nudity in Hollywood films is dealt with by blurring,why do Indian filmmakers have to delete such scenes from their films? We were told that Indian filmmakers dont blur them enough, says Ahluwalia,adding,It was almost comical sometimes. I would feel as if I were Amol Palekar in some Hrishikesh Mukherjee film,pleading my case in a court. However,Ahluwalia feels that CBFC has been kind to him and allowed a cut that is closest to what he originally envisioned.
Now,he hopes that the festival run as well as the cult following for C and D-grade cinema will bring in audiences. In addition,the success of films such as The Lunchbox,Ship of Theseus and Shahid has also given the director hope not only in the possibility of his films box-office performance but also that the industry has started to accept my kind of filmmakers and our cinema. It will be interesting to see if hereon indie cinema can coexist with mainstream and become a parallel movement, he says.
Soon,Ahluwalia who has earlier made the National Award-winning feature-length documentary,John & Jane,about the world of outsourcing might find his cinema overlapping with mainstream. The director is currently in talks with two studios in India regarding new projects and is also developing a story set in 16th century Italy.
Not averse to working with known faces,Ahluwalia is,however,unwilling to work with actors who are more concerned with looking good in a scene where they are dying. I am open to collaborating with stars who are actors till the time I am not expected to serve the industry and its ways, he says.