Dark, disturbing and disorienting, Miss Lovely is the sort of film grips viewers by the gullet and drags them into a claustrophobic crevice.
In other words, it isn?t an easy film to watch. It demands total attention and a willing surrender to its unusual narrative rhythm.
The visual texture, the editing patterns and the sound design of this provocative portrait of Mumbai?s dystopian sex-horror film industry of the 1980s are all aimed at generating discomfiture.
Brother is pitted against brother in a shady arena ruled by greed, ambition, licentiousness and criminality.
In the end, all that is left are shattered lives, dashed dreams and chastened survivors scrambling to get back on their feet only to discover that the ground beneath has moved.
Watching Miss Lovely is at times akin to being flung into a sludgy whirlpool. At others it has the effect of a corkscrew being drilled into the head.
Miss Lovely is unlike anything that has been produced before in Indian cinema. Hence it is absolutely futile to look for past references in order to either slap a convenient label on the film or make sense of it in a particular generic context.
The sensibility on display in Miss Lovely is unique but it isn?t an overtly arthouse film. Nor is it outright pulp. Stylization and sleaze coalesce organically in Miss Lovely, serving the purpose of depicting a precise time, place and culture in Hindi cinema history.
It is, all at once, a love story, a fratricidal drama, a chronicle of a grimy segment of Mumbai showbiz, a saga of rampant amorality, and even probably an expression of despair at the decline of cinema.
What is exceptional is none of the narrative strands stands distinctly apart from the others. They all flow, in an intertwined and overlapping manner, into the overall pastiche.
Director Ashim Ahluwalia (who has, in true auteur tradition, also co-written the film?s finely chiseled screenplay and worked on its extraordinarily evocative sound design and editing) brings alive the putrid cesspool that the world of sexploitation flicks of the 1980s represented.
While the action takes place in an era gone by and hinges on a handful of slimy characters, many of whom are both blatant exploiters and hapless victims of a mess of their own making, Miss Lovely is a subliminal dig at any cinema that is driven by the profit-at-all-cost principle.
Back in the 1980s, these producers of porn were at best a fringe phenomenon existing in a barely visible corner of the Mumbai movie industry.
Today one cannot help thinking that their tribe has acquired mainstream proportions and the pandering to basic instincts to sell blockbusters is, in more instances than not, an accepted marketing tool.
The murky milieu that the two principal characters of Miss Lovely, Vicky (Anil George) and Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), inhabit is captured in a manner that blends schlock, maverick camera moves and a docu-drama sensibility.
It?s a dog-eat-dog world ? at one point Vicky admits that he lives a ?kutte ki zindagi? ? and the men here are crude sexual predators who make no bones about their intentions.
Vicky, the elder of the brothers who run Duggal Cine Combine from a tawdry hideout, makes illegal sex films for shady producers, financiers and distributors that are in the game for reasons other than cinematic.
The younger brother, Sonu, who we first catch in the disagreeable act of selling X-rated footage to an Ajmer theatre and then cursing himself for it on the way back to Mumbai, wants to branch out on his own and make a legit romantic film.
Sonu?s resolve is strengthened when he chances upon a wannabe starlet, Pinky (Niharika Singh), and falls in love with her. The girl, a mystery wrapped in an enigma, becomes a bone of contention between the siblings.
Leading up to this point in the tale, the exploitative Vicky has unceremoniously dumped a fading C-grade actress, Poonam (Zeena Bhatia), and taken a new girl, Nadia (Menaka Lalwani), under his wings.
But that doesn?t stop him from eyeing Pinky, who, on her part, is obviously not as much of an ing?nue as she might appear to be.
Indeed, in the variable sands of this shadowy universe, nothing is what it seems. It is far worse.
Rivalry between the brothers leads to dissipation of trust. The consequences are disastrous.
The first hour or so of Miss Lovely is marked by camerawork that just is as frenzied as the shifty characters.
It then settles down to a steadier tempo even as the drama takes a more intense and dangerous turn.
Miss Lovely is like an all-out pincer attack that is controlled and perfectly directed.
This film isn?t for the squeamish, the lazy and the kind whose cinematic tastes are strictly conservative.
But for filmgoers who love cinema that pushes and prods them into new directions, no matter how baffling, Miss Lovely is bound to be a memorable treat.