Filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia’s maiden feature film Miss Lovely, which explores the C-grade film industry of the 1980s, finally hits the Indian marquee on January 17. In a tête-à-tête with Rinky Kumar, the director reveals how he shot the film in seedy hotels and why he was fascinated by the sex and sleaze of this industry that provides fodder to wild fantasies of small-town India
How would you describe Miss Lovely?
It’s a film about two brothers who produce C-grade films in the mid-’80s. It is raw, gritty and wild.
Miss Lovely revolves around two brothers who direct C-grade films and get fascinated by an actress called Pinky
How did this movie’s idea stem from a documentary, Maut Ka Chehra that you wanted to helm?
As a child, I would watch some of these sleazy films and was fascinated by them. Many small-town Indians would watch these movies. After I went to study filmmaking in the US and returned to India, I decided to explore the behind-the-scenes functioning of this industry through a documentary Maut Ka Chehra. Though I met people from this industry and got to know their stories by interacting with them, when it came to making the documentary, no one was willing to come on record. I had a lot of content with me. That’s when I thought of making Miss Lovely. The movie is a fictional script culled from a combination of real-life stories.
Apart from Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the movie has unknown faces. What prompted you to cast them?
I wanted people who could blend into the atmosphere of C-grade films. When I cast Nawaz, he hadn’t shot into the limelight yet. Miss Lovely got delayed and by then, his other movies got released and he became a known face. I met Nawaz and cast him when he was doing theatre in New Delhi. He fit the bill of the submissive brother. Likewise, I opted for Anil George to play the older brother. This is his first lead role. He had done street theatre earlier.
The movie had been in the making for many years. What were the causes for the delay?
After penning the script, I had to think about how to finance the film. I didn’t want to approach corporate houses, as I feared they would make the movie commercial contentwise. My first documentary, John and Jane, based on call centre employees had been bought by HBO. So I knew some French producers. When I sent them Miss Lovely’s script, they showed an interest. They helped me get in touch with other producers. It took me three years to raise funds.
What kind of research went into capturing the essence of the C-grade film industry of the ’80s?
While raising funds, I got adequate time to prep for the project. We focused on art direction, referred to actual photographs of C-grade actors to get the hair and make-up right. We got a chance to get a peek into Silk Smitha’s wardrobe to use it as a reference for the costumes. Finally, we shot the movie in 45 days.
What were the biggest hurdles that you faced while filming?
The main challenge was to capture the aura of the ’80s perfectly and make the film look realistic. We shot at one-hour hotels. We didn’t seek permissions, as we wouldn’t have got them. So we lied that we were making a documentary.
How did the movie get selected for the Uncertain Regard category at Cannes Film Festival in 2012?
There was a buzz about the movie on the festival circuit. We showed the uncut version at Cannes and it got a tremendous response.
Why did it take so long to release the film in India?
I had never thought it would release in India as the movie deals with a controversial topic. Six months ago, I started getting offers from distributors who were keen to pick up the film. With the release of movies such as Ship of Theseus and The Lunchbox, now there is a space for independent films. Getting the clearance of the Censor Board was a time-consuming process. The movie got an A certificate. At first, they passed it with 157 cuts. But I kept on following up with them and finally the movie now has only two cuts.
What are your future projects?
We will release Miss Lovely in the US in March. I’m also considering a period film set in Italy during the Renaissance. I have been offered some other projects too, but nothing has been finalised yet.