The Indian film “Miss Lovely” sets Bollywood’s enduring good brother-versus-bad brother theme against the backdrop of the underground grindhouse filmmaking industry of 1980s Mumbai. Just don’t mistake the film for a Bollywood production, as it boasts exactly one musical number.
Bard College-educated director and co-writer Ashim Ahluwalia co-opts fewer American stylistic influences than have contemporaries like Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta. Ahluwalia’s tale centers on the bottom-feeding Duggal brothers — devil-may-care Vicky (Anil George) and resentful Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). They crank out fly-by-night productions of soft-core horror with financing from shady gangsters.
Hoping to impress beautiful starlet Pinky (Niharika Singh), Sonu schemes and steals to scrape together her starmaking vehicle. But unbeknown to Sonu, the seemingly wholesome Pinky shares a malapropos past with Vicky.
“Miss Lovely” does exude an air of authenticity. Ahluwalia’s documentarian background and extensive research make believable even clichés like sibling rivalry and the “All About Eve” catfight for attention among the actresses.
But much of the film remains underdeveloped: Sonu’s obsession with Pinky, her role as the femme fatale and the historical context for cultural shifts, in particular the public’s attitude toward smut. The grindhouse industry fizzles in the end along with the brothers’ relationship, but the film doesn’t make clear if the catalyst is simply the advent of the VCR or the outcry against child pornography that was on the edge of the public conscience.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Playing: At Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.