Miss Lovely exposes industry dark side
By Patrick Frater
Sat, 09 June 2012, 08:00 AM (HKT)
How did you feel the reaction was to the first performances of Miss Lovely at Cannes?
Ashim Ahluwalia: Very much as I expected. The only thing I said to the audience before the screening was for them to leave behind at the door all their pre-conceived notions of what an Indian film should be.
But Cannes is a complex place, there are all these commercial and indie films thrown together in one big pot. And because there is no prior press, people don't know what things are about. Anyone who came expecting this to be Boogie Nights, with that kind of narrative, were pissed off. Those who came with the notion of exploring 'New Indian Cinema' were really excited by it and considered it to be brave. The average reaction was probably 'what the fuck'. People often need time to digest, need context and a space to understand it.
This is a hybrid film. It is a pop film that becomes art-house half-way through, then goes back to being pop. There are a lot of things I'm interested in exploring, breaking down boundaries between these different categories. And that really upsets people who come in with boundaries. I'm very much trying to upset their sense of stability. There's no precedent for this stuff.
Is it necessary that you have so many roles in the making of the film – producer, scriptwriter, sound designer on top of being director?
Ashim Ahluwalia: I do too much, but it is the only way I can get a film like this made. Actually, I'm still working on the film, it is not finished.
But this is a double-edged sword, there's no infrastructure for independent film in India, there's no space, no support. If I didn't do a lot of stuff myself I would never be able to get it made. I'd love to relax, drop back and just direct.
At the same time I'm quite a control freak, and there's a way that I imagine a film. For example if you gave this film to a conventional editor who followed the script – and by the way the script is quite conventional, a straight-up narrative , they'd cut it like the narrative. But I think there is some value to having something elliptical. I like the fragmented, choppy nature of the film. I want to explore.
How much of the so-called 'C-Grade' industry that is at the core of Miss Lovely still exists? And does it have parallels with Japan's 'pink films' in that they often aspire to be something more than exploitative?
Ashim Ahluwalia: The C-Grade industry is basically almost over. It was a phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s, cheap, sleazy and shot on celluloid, at least in my mind. Because that was the only way you could see a naked woman or see ultra-violence in a film, they were illegal and yet there was a huge audience for these films. In the 1990s as India went from being a closed, Socialist economy to a globalised economy, video, pornography and the Internet came in and there was no need for these films any more.
That's why in the film the brothers eventually get rid of the crew, shoot on video, with just themselves and the girl. That's the beginning of the 1990s and for me the film is very much about the beginning of the globalised, digital age.
I don't think that there was much in the way of intended artistry. But there was a lot happening accidentally in that the films were made in a pastiche manner. Films were stuck together and made weird new associations and combinations. So, in Miss Lovely we do that a lot. We have a killing scene stuck right next to a song. They don't really belong in the same film!
I'm really interested in this, as a post-cinematic, post-internet way of making a film. Take something from a film noir, then something from the 1940s, then a romantic film, then switch to a Bresson-like art-house film. All that was quite influenced by the way these guys made films.
Anil George: Not many people enter the industry seeking to be in the C-Grade category. But they are held back by one of two limitations; money or lack of talent. There are some good film-makers who are forced into this by budgetary restraints, and there are others who have big dreams, but realise they don't have the talent for big movies.
Have you spent much time watching 'C-Grade' movies?
Nawazuddin Siddique: Yes, I came from a small village and this was the only form of film entertainment, so I've seen a lot. That said, we always checked to make sure that they contained a sex scene before we go and watch.
Anil George: I've seen a few. As an adolescent you are bound to see some. But in my society, they were quite taboo and I was not very open about them, so I have not watched a lot. I'm still not that bold in real life.
How and why did you become involved with Miss Lovely?
Anil George: I'm a theatre and stage performer by profession and one of the producers of the film came to Delhi to watch one of my performances. We did a screen test and after the first one they told me that they wanted me for the role. The role came to me.
Equally, I wanted to do it because I liked the script very much. I felt that the role gave me a lot of scope to bring out my capabilities. The character is complex, with a wide range of emotions and I felt I could do justice to it.
I feel really blessed that I got this opportunity with Ashim. I really like the way that he works with the whole unit; the actors, the set and sees the whole movie. His thought process is great.
Vicky is a pretty nasty character, do you think he had many redeeming elements?
Anil George: One of Vicky's redeeming features is that he loves his younger brother. In one scene he even cries for the love of his brother. All he really wants to do is make money for himself and his family. Ultimately, it is up to the audience how they receive the character.
He is a very intense character and I appreciate the audience feedback. It seems that if they concentrate fully, the audience can perceive more than just two sides, good and bad.
What attracted you to this film and first time feature director Ashim Ahluwalia?
Nawazuddin Siddiqui: When I did some research on Ashim I found out that he doesn't really watch many Bollywood movies and that his brand of film is not very close to conventional Bollywood cinema. I was actually looking for that.
As far as the character [of Sonu, the younger brother] is concerned, I take the view that actor, character and director need to be in synch for the best to come out.
You are super busy making films this year. What's next?
Nawazuddin Siddiqui: Yes I have three films in Cannes and nine films lined up for release in the near future. I'm in Gangs of वासेपुर (Wasseypur) and am now doing another with director Anurag KASHYAP's assistant Shlok Sharma alongside popular actor Irrfan KHAN, and Talaash with Aamir KHAN at the end of the year. In each of these, except Talaash in which I'm in a supporting role, I'm the lead.
How did a former Miss India get involved something like this as her first film?
Niharika Singh: There's no secret there. It was through a casting call. Then Ashim sent me the script. And I completely fell in love with it. Obviously this wasn't the usual kind of thing that comes your way as an actor. In fact I'd done two commercial Bollywood films previously which were not released.
I started as a model in a small town up North where I got paid almost nothing, then worked my way up to a bigger city working for peanuts, and then moved to Bombay and the beauty pageant scene. I made a couple of films that didn't get released and didn't really have a film education. In fact, I'd not seen more than one film per year until I got to college. The town I grew up in had only one theatre and played C-Grade movies we were not allowed to see.
Then along comes this interesting film. It was full of stuff I could relate to. I had not seen the C-Grade films themselves, but I'd seen the things it was talking about as I made my way to Bombay. I thought the script was really intelligent.
It takes a lot of guts to be in this film.
Niharika Singh: Yes, well, I'm known for doing a lot of the wrong things. But in fact I'm happy that this was one of the best choices I've ever made.
I'm interested in continuing to act, but I still have much to learn. I don't think I'll be going back to Bombay and doing the usual Bollywood stuff.
Photo (l-r): Actors Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Anil George and Niharika Singh and director Ashim Ahluwalia.
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