[Assam] (assam) Mumbai in the Bad Old Days
bbaruah at aol.com
Sat May 26 16:55:36 IST 2012
New York Times (May 26, 2012)
Mumbai in the Bad Old DaysCannes Film Festival 2012
The actress Niharika Singh, who plays a girl fresh, or perhaps not so fresh, from the provinces in ‘‘Miss Lovely.’’
By JOAN DUPONTPublished: May 25, 2012
The director Ashim Ahluwalia.Cannes Film Festival 2012
The film, in Hindi, stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anil George as brothers in the pornography business. The exquisite Niharika Singh plays Pinky, a girl fresh, or perhaps not so fresh, from the provinces.
Mr. Ahluwalia, 39, is best known for “John & Jane,” a documentary from 2005 that looks like a feature and that won the National Film Award in India.
“Miss Lovely” is the opposite: a fictional film with the feel of a documentary. It was inspired by science fiction from the ’70s, movies like “Demon Seed,” Mr. Ahluwalia said, as he and Ms. Singh sat for an interview.
“Miss Lovely,” in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, competes for the Caméra d’Or, the prize for a first feature film.
Ms. Singh, a tall beauty who was a former Indian beauty pageant winner, was raised in a remote northern town, where, she said, the porn films the audience sees being churned out in “Miss Lovely” were the only sort of movie that was shown.
“So we didn’t go at all,” she said, “because they were the kind of sex horror films you don’t want to send your kids to. And that’s all there was. Once a year on Children’s Day there was a film just for us.”
“Miss Lovely” is about mean streets and meaner trafficking, the underpinnings of the sleaze trade, ruled by men. The brothers work in sordid cellars, cranking out movies like “Dolly Darling” and “Lady James Bond.”
Most of the sex in the pornography Mr. Ahluwalia refers to was rape. A woman who was tramp enough to act in these movies was disposable: She would often end up in a sewer, as happens to a character in “Miss Lovely.”
India didn’t sanction these films. “Porn was illegal,” said the director. “If you got caught, it was serious — you went to jail.”
The two brothers in “Miss Lovely” have different personalities: Vicky (Anil George) is ruthless and cynical, while the younger Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a romantic.
“Actually, it’s not really black and white,” said the director. “Both brothers are trapped in a tragic way. The older one is a dark character, while the younger dreams of making a better life and a serious, beautiful film with Pinky, a girl he meets on a train. But Pinky, as it turns out, has her own secrets.
“I’ve met dozens of Pinkys,” the director said. “Girls who say they just arrived in Bombay, when actually, they’ve been around for 10 years and have multiple identities. You discover they’ve done a little escorting on the side. I know all these people.
“Bombay’s a place where people are violent, a city of immigrants,” he continued. “Everybody has the survival instinct: People are so harsh with each other.”
Mr. Ahluwalia has filmed ’80s Mumbai, then called Bombay, as a modern ruin, a maze of back streets and cellars; toiling bodies piled up on each other, like disjointed dolls. Vampire gadgetry is piled in filthy corners and deals are made in the dark. And yet this city has beauty, a monster in the throes of change.
“It’s the city that was and is no longer — a transition period between the end of socialism and the beginning of socialization,” he said. “In Socialist India, TV had one channel, we had one black and white channel, like America in the ’50s. We jumped from that to 500 channels in color — we haven’t caught up.”
Mr. Ahluwalia has exhibited at Tate Modern and made an installation for the Venice Architecture Biennale.
He lives in Mumbai, where he attended the same school as Salman Rushdie. He went on to Bard College, where he majored in cinema.
“I went to Bard because my marks were so terrible, it was the only college that would take me,” he said. “They said, ‘Don’t worry about your SATs; write us an essay.”’
His approach to film dates from those days and to his encounter with the avant-garde film work of Stan Brakhage and Adolfas Mekas, professors at Bard.
“We’ve had Bollywood and art cinema, two distinct movements,” he explained. “I would like to break those rules and mix genres, which really upsets the art crowd. They want you to flag it so they can recognize the references.”
And where is Bollywood now? “About in the same shape as Hollywood,” he said. “But there’s no government financing as there is in France, and nobody backing you, which is why I had to get money from all over the map.
“It’s an all-encompassing beast.”
A version of this article appeared in print on May 26, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune.
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