Superman Stats

Sunday, 19 January 2014

In Depth Analysis: Miss Lovely

In Depth Analysis

Miss Lovely by Ashim Ahluwalia

Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Sonu Duggal, Niharika Singh as Pinky and Anil George as Vicky Duggal

A competitor at Un Certain Regard of the Cannes Film Festival 2012. A film about the C-Grade Hindi Film Industry in 80's Mumbai

I'll be the first to admit; 
It was hard to comprehend the breadth that Miss Lovely as a picture was trying to cover. Both in its visual exploration of the C-Grade films of old Mumbai, and the sub textual ideas ingrained within its script. 

It's why I decided to not do a review. I notice that in a film review, I end up giving my focus on the performances and spouting simple adjectives to describe the effort put into constructing the picture. My reviews tend to have a technicality to them and simply a mention of the depth in a film, while I myself simply highlight the main points at a superficial level. My language also tends to be limited and scarce when I'm place in a movie review mode.

Miss Lovely stars talented actor and rising star Nawazuddin Siddiqui, it's a film he shot before his rise to fame

Obviously the performances are terrific, each actor gets well into the understandings of their character and its complexities. So I wont really delve into that. 

Miss Lovely is the examination of the C-Grade (read Soft-core porn and cheap horror) Hindi film industry during its heyday in the 80's in the seedy underbelly of Mumbai, through the eyes of one Sonu Duggal. A film maker alongside his dominating and power hungry brother Vicky Duggal, Sonu works the odd jobs in the disgusting and derivative film industry. He wishes to be free, that creating a constant path of conflict with his debt ridden and blindly ambitious brother. Sonu discovers a shining light in the form of enigmatic Pinky. His romance beginning a trail of despair, betrayal and above all death in the lives of the two brothers that leaves them forever changed.

Ahluwalia's Miss Lovely is an intense exploit in charting and industry marred by the lecherous goals of many a money minded men and the path towards abyss for the women stuck within it. It's a ruthless and methodological take by the director to understand the characters or you could say the real people involved within this world. 

The film begins with a gaudy, kitschy visual and audio experience that pays homage to the style of the films from that 80's era. The credits drip with a sense of sleaze in the motion with which its colors blend with the garish music, without even showing as much.

The cheap mix of horror and sex that defines C-Grade film making

The tone easily shifting from the credits to a typical down trodden Horror film sequence, with the clunky acting, cheap lighting, effect, makeup and more importantly claustrophobic yet flashy camera work. A particularly intriguing ode to Ramsey Brothers Horror-Porn film style, the same brothers who can be thought to be the inspiration for both Duggal Brothers (Sonu and Vicky). 

Finally the camera shifts another layer further, establishing the dank and grim projection room, once again the claustrophobic camera works its magic. Here it gives precedence to the working conditions and a mirror for the condition of the kind of work the cinema hall presents. 

Our protagonist; Sonu enters the room presenting the next reel of the film. Our first taste of the audience comes from the hollering and clamoring when reels are being changed and finally the camera defines the films (being screened) shift to a scene of sexual nature. Here the cinematographer among the darkened lights of the hall picks up a wider scope of the audience, men of all ages with lust drenched faces. 

All in all this initial shot establishes the setting of the picture and gives its outlook at first glance of the people involved within the cinematic experience of a C-Grade film. Both writer and director will then go on to give an under the surface look at the film-making involved tied by the aspirations of its protagonist. At the same time with the initial scene, in one fell sweep Ahluwalia is able to institute a bubble of unease on its viewer that lasts for its run time, broken only by the climatic sequence. 

It's no surprise then, that both the opening and ending is what is so memorable about Ahluwalia's masterpiece. I'll get to the ending in a while. 

Much of the meat of the film is bound by the narration of Sonu, his plight and his need to break out from a world that is eating from the inside. The character study at place opens a wider world to the viewer. We also get an entrenched understanding of the motives of many of these unlikable people, specifically Sonu's elder brother Vicky and object of affection Pinky.

 A larger part of the film focuses on the broken bond between the two brothers Sonu and Vicky
From his first narration you understand the pain and suffering amidst the down trodden world that Sonu is a part off, his position is well dictated in terms of his mannerisms and his workings. The frustrations yet forced camaraderie between the brothers well documented, in an opening one way shouting match. 

Sonu's mistake has cost Vicky, you don't know why and you don't know how but Vicky's anger is intense and a constrained framing (Even from a mid-shot angle) defines his dominance and grasp over the younger Duggal brother. This cycle of a broken but feebly tied relationship is a sub-textual placement of the two characters repetitive struggle against one another, something we will see through out the film. 

But there's more to it than you can comprehend, a light tap easily makes the viewer determine of Vicky's protectiveness for his brother. He takes the mistake on his head and is thoroughly made an example of in front of the film distributor. This is consistent till the bitter end, yet at the same time there is a perception (since we view the film through Sonu) that just like how the two collide, Vicky's words are not always supported by his actions. 

In a way we are able to learn about and sympathize with Vicky no matter how disgusting of a character is, but are always pulled back by Sonu's own narration of events. It's a matter of time before you realize how each person involved in the larger narrative has a darker and somewhat repulsive appeal to them. 

This is why the focused romantic plot is where the viewer is entrapped in. Sonu and Pinky's romantic tale begins from the first wide shot of 80's India, after doing his initial deed Sonu is on a train and spots Pinky opposite him.

Niharika Singh's Pinky, a dark and manipulative character hiding under the facade of simple and innocent beauty

From the first simple frame establishing Pinky, we as the audience are mesmerized by the simple yet breathtaking beauty of Niharika Singh. It's easy for us to see her as the placeholder for Sonu's own freedom and aspirations.

Unfortunately from their first rendezvous their hints of how convoluted things are going to get. She's an aspiring actor bogged down by her 'Uncle', there's a hint of mystery to her identity. He lies about his stature to get closer to her. Then they easily fall for each other (or at least she supposedly does for him, where he already had when he saw her in the train). With relative ease she sees through his facade when she meets his brother, Sonu is manipulated into cheating Vicky by taking some of his money and giving it too Pinky for the production of their film; Miss Lovely. 

A sequence of dialogues that highlight some of Ahluwalia's meta references giving spunk to the film. There's a scene where Sonu's deceit to Pinky is still intact, they walk out of the cinema and discuss her prospects in the movie world.

To this (and I paraphrase), Pinky notes that she doesn't understand Sonu's pursuit of her when she herself has no acting skills. To which Sonu comments that for this business (Mainstream Bollywood) there's no need for acting skills, when you have a dazzling face such as her's. 

It's hilarious because of how it references actor Nawazzudin Siddiqui's own image, a not so handsome actor who struggled for years because of the perceived notions of what a Bollywood 'actor' (and you know why I put that in quotes) should be. Ironic also because at this point in the making of the film, Siddiqui wouldn't know what form of stardom he was in store of. (Note that Miss Lovely was made long before Siddiqui shot to fame through Gangs of Wasseypur and Kahaani). 

There's also a sort of backhanded compliment to leading lady Niharika Singh. She is beautiful, there's no denying it. Singh is a model, the so called good looks but no acting skill type in Bollywood. But where she say on celluloid she can't act, Singh gives a surprisingly stupendous performance in the film. 

Then of course, the fact that Sonu plans on making a romantic film called Miss Lovely. It's in turn a definition of Sonu's personal goals and aspirations. The route through which he can start a new life, it's in turn a meta reference to both the film the audience is watching and the story he himself is creating through his life. His romantic pursuit of Pinky and their (or as he thinks) pursuit for freedom from their everyday plight in this seedy world. 

When his brother enters the picture, you realize that the love story is for naught. There's that greater sense of despair and choking constriction of unease, that Sonu will not gain what he desires. It is here that Ahluwalia in intricate fashion sweeps the viewer off, Pinky who is meant to be Sonu's enlightenment and in turn to us his redemption is as part of this world as his own brother. 

Like with his the two brothers relationship, Sonu's personal journey is in a rut. He is stuck in a cesspool made by the actions of every individual he is connected to specially his own brother. This is why when Vicky falls further down, he takes his brother with him.

Forced by his fate, Vicky pushes Sonu into shooting a porn film to gain extra money. From here onwards, Sonu's life spirals into the worst conditions imaginable. An example of the film evoking uneasiness in its viewer

When Vicky is trapped by the law, the realization of his brothers earlier shallow (at least in comparison to his own) betrayal brings Sonu to his last step of the journey. A Sonu in jail, brutalized and weak is far more free than he has ever been. It's the bitter irony that in loneliness and incarceration, Sonu finds a solace he never had. 

This is a part of the film I wish Ahluwalia had far explored. His indulgence into the C-Grade film industry prevents a large character thread to be left behind. But even then, it is an advantage as it helps in producing a blistering climax. 

Now free from prison, Sonu notices how the people of his world have been forced to move ahead and far away. Yet Vicky in a new setting still latches on to the darker trenches of the industry. On a larger scale we know and Sonu knows that his dream is shattered, but as a microcosm Miss Lovely idea still lives in purity. But that's what he thinks!

A final meeting delves into the further depth of Vicky but more importantly Pinky's betrayal of Sonu. His last vestige of now a bygone hope; Miss Lovely, is turned into just another sleazy C-Grade film. The thing that drove Sonu's escape from despair has become just another part of it, the circle and cesspool of grime and muck is now complete. 

With that the cycle of Sonu and Vicky's relationship is also complete. In a surprising turn of events, Sonu is unhinged as he bashes his brother's head pummeling him to death. It's a sequence as a viewer you waited for but unlike any mainstream Bollywood film you can't cheer for the protagonist. The restraining bubble of unease is ironically burst yet it also lingers. 

Special mention to how Ahluwalia constructs the scene. After beating his brother's head in, a unfocused Sonu slowly loses his hearing (temporarily) and the background score slowly muffles the sounds of Pinky's moans (playing on video) with a screech. 

The scene shifts to a dazed Sonu walking the halls of a shoot, here this is highlighted with the same screech coupled with a field of depth blurring the visuals ahead of the lead character. We're then given sight to a gaudy dance sequence where Pinky is presented in all her synthetic glory. The gold light dazzling not only us but also a blood soaked and red eyed Sonu, who leaves with the ambiguous message of his love and journey.

The final shot of Pinky performing a dance sequence on set. Major props to the costume and set designers as well as cinematographer Mohanan in capturing the kitsch grandeur of the film making style

A mention of some of the technical aspects. The cinematography works well in establishing the period and tone of the film, lighting is either low or in garish colors to highlight the production style of C-Grade picture. The film within the film aspects are presented in a cheap and fuzzy manned to imitate the period era and technology. Sound as mentioned works well in bringing out both uneasiness in situations where there are sexual scenes as well as actions in the main narrative. The costume and set design also easily replicates the kind of content C-Grade films were driven by.

Apart from that I'll have to watch the film again to give my standard review. 

Since it's hard to explain if I've understood the film at all, not to mention right. As I've said on a surface level the film is the exploration of the seedy C-Grade film industry through the eyes of our protagonist Sonu. 

I like my idea of the symbolism of his film Miss Lovely and in turn his Miss Lovely; Pinky. In a way you can say this is one of the most oddest (And I know this gets thrown around a lot, but it is true) Romantic film you'll see on celluloid. 

Miss Lovely will make you uneasy, but it's an experience worth watching. Although hopefully before you read this, you've watched the film. 

'Nuff Said 

Aneesh Raikundalia    

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your amazing analysis ! It was hard to understand Sonu's last dialogue lines at the end of the film, very ambiguous... A real masterpiece that deserved such a well written article !