Q&A With ‘Miss Lovely’ Director Ashim Ahluwalia
Later this month, Mumbai-based director Ashim Ahluwalia will head to the Cannes film festival, where his latest production Miss Lovely will be screened as part of the “Un Certain Regard” section that spotlights young talent and off-beat movies from around the world. Ahluwalia, who last shot the critically acclaimed documentary John & Jane, about call centre workers, mined the sleazy squalor of 1980s C-grade Hindi movies for his new project, which centres on a pair of horror film-producing brothers who end up falling for the same woman. Ahead of his Cannes debut, Ahluwalia replied to our questions via email from Berlin, where he is currently working on the film’s post-production.
You’re heading to Cannes. What was your reaction when you found out that Miss Lovely would be screened there?
I’ve worked on this film for a long time and it wasn’t very easy to get it made, so it was really perfect news. People are excited about it, and that’s great.
Miss Lovely started off as an idea for a documentary, right? How did it become a feature film?
Originally, I wanted to make a documentary about the shooting of a cheap sex-horror film called Maut Ka Chehra. So I spent time hanging out with the people behind the film. They were quite a wild bunch who introduced me to everyone in the C-grade industry at the time. But they were too scared to talk on camera because there was so much overlap with the underworld and prostitution, so the documentary I was trying to make never happened. The stories I heard and the people I met became the basis for the script for Miss Lovely.
It’s tough being an indie art house filmmaker here. Are there certain filmmakers whose careers you look to as a guide?
There are no guides, that’s the problem. Everything you do is being done for the first time. That is why people who start out making one interesting film always end up making something more commercial for their second film, or they just stop making films altogether. If you are a truly independent filmmaker, all the odds are stacked against you so you have to be pretty crazy to carry on.
You’ve been quoted as saying that Bollywood films are “totally uninteresting”. Is it discouraging to realise that it’s those movies that audiences here want to watch? Also, are there any Indian filmmakers you admire?
People watch what they have access to watch, so I don’t hold audiences responsible for what they see. It’s the distribution system that makes it difficult for people to access anything different. But whenever they have genuinely tried to back a new kind of indie Bollywood film, it has worked. My films are very different from these though; they are less commercial and more strange perhaps. My taste in Indian film is also sort of eclectic—I love some Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak films, but I am obsessed with the Malayali filmmaker G. Aravindan. I also really like B film directors like B. R. Ishara who made an amazing film about a traditional Indian housewife addicted to drugs called Naya Nasha. I like to find things that surprise me and not just assume that certain films are “great” just because somebody tells me they are.
Your last release was John & Jane in 2005. Why the big gap between projects?
It took me a long time to raise finance and put this film together because there isn’t really any infrastructure to produce such films in India.
Have you kept in touch with the call centre workers from John & Jane? We’re curious to know what’s happened to their lives.
I’m in touch with some of them. The first character who appears in the film, Glen, is actually a good friend now and he left his call centre job after we shot John & Jane. After meeting us, he said he wanted to also work in film because he felt connected to what we were doing. Now he lives in Poland and is one of the biggest digital colourists in Europe—these are the guys that set the colour palette for the film. I think he’s working on the new Batman film or something. It’s quite insane.
Lastly, what’s your ultimate C-grade Bollywood film?
I can’t name just one! Maybe Lady James Bond or Private Life—I can’t decide.